MDVA Higher Education Veterans Program, Southeast Regional Coordinator
When Minnesota’s Veterans return from deployment, they are greeted with a wider support network than any of their brothers or sisters from other generations before them could ever imagine. Even with so much assistance available, it can still be difficult to make ends meet, especially when attempting to further their education. There are many education benefits available, but often students have a hard time making ends meet while they juggle their studies with their jobs and their families. The Hiawatha Valley Yellow Ribbon (BYR) Committee saw this as an opportunity to show their gratitude.
Last Christmas, they donated a Christmas tree to Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical Red Wing Campus and then auctioned off the tree. The winner of the auction donated the tree to the family of a deployed service member, and the money raised was put toward a scholarship fund. On Wednesday, May 8, the Hiawatha Valley BYR presented the school with two $1000 scholarships for Veteran students. The scholarship money will go toward helping with the cost of books, supplies, and fees at the college, which are often the biggest challenges facing our student Vets.
Greg Cady, a Criminal Justice instructor at the college, as well as a Naval Reservist, presented the check on behalf of the Hiawatha Valley Yellow Ribbon Committee to James Johnson, President of Minnesota State College – Southeast Technical in a ceremony in front of students and faculty. The scholarships will be awarded annually going forward.
Photo Caption: Pictured from left to right: Greg Cady, James Johnson, Lance Garrick, Dave Birkenmayer, Tony Tengwall, and Jerry Borgan.
This month I will focus on the “Thank You’s” that are past due to our Veteran Leadership across the great state of Minnesota!
First…to all those who worked hard to insure that Memorial Day was focused on its true purpose… honoring our fallen heroes. The ceremonies, media interactions, and expressions of our caring and honor were focused on the day’s true meaning. Thank you for your hard work and detailed planning.
Second…I want to thank our Commanders’ Task Force for their leadership this past legislative session. Collectively the Commanders forged a solid legislative agenda; monitored it consistently; and in the final hours worked both within and outside our agency to insure their goals were properly vetted, with the key goal of seeing the completion of the Minneapolis Veterans Home properly funded.
Like a well planned military campaign, the Commanders’ Task Force made certain the proper people were in the proper place, at the proper time for maximum impact. Granted, we did not get everything we sought, but we did accomplish key goals. More importantly, many experienced the benefits of a united effort with a common focus. They were awesome and revealed the power of the “sleeping giant.” Thank you!!!
Third…to all who have taken part in the “Ride for Healing!” Thank you also! As a Vietnam Veteran I felt (as I always had) a special pride in my service. The “Ride for Healing” is a signature event that marks the beginning of the thirteen year remembrance of the War in Vietnam. These next years will mark the 50th Anniversary.
And last…to all Veterans, support the Veterans Service Organizations; promote the contributions Veterans make to their community; help your legislators make the “right” decisions; and support those who care for and support our comrades-in-arms. I also thank our legislators and Governor Dayton for “sticking with us” in keeping our Minneapolis Veterans Home alive and successful.
Have you tapped into your personal cornucopia of Veteran federal benefits? These are benefits that you’ve earned for your military service.
Your Minnesota County Veterans Service Officer (CVSO) is the first person you should contact to find out if you or your family is qualified for local, state and federal Veterans' benefits. CVSOs work with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs and Veterans Service Organizations to make sure you get all the Veteran benefits you are eligible for.
“We act as an advocate on the behalf of the Veteran and assist in the application process for State and Federal benefits,” said Duane Brownie, County Veterans Service Officer and President of the Minnesota Association of County Veterans Service Officers. Brownie also said CVSO’s will submit the correct paperwork to establish, increase, or maintain proven benefits or disabilities for Veterans.
Brownie said Veterans can locate their CVSO’s by looking through the directory on the Minnesota Association for County Veterans Service Officers’ website, looking in the telephone book under county government in the Veteran services section or simply Google CVSO services.
“Minnesotan Veterans and families are blessed to have a CVSO in every county to help our Veterans continue their fight for federal benefits within the government,” said Brownie. He said if there was an attempt to regionalize the CVSOs, they would be missing out on local opportunities with non-profit agencies and older Veterans would have to travel long distances to meet with a CVSO.
CVSOs in Minnesota serve a very important mission and Veterans who haven’t visited with their CVSOs are encouraged to do so now. Less than 30 percent of the approximately 370,000 Veterans in Minnesota receive some form of federal assistance. This figure puts into perspective the number of Veterans who potentially are not receiving the benefits they have earned and are entitled to.
“Minnesota CVSO’s are among the best in the nation. They are well trained, professional and understand how to navigate the complex VA system. They are the experts for all things Veteran in their respective communities. Without them, many of our state's Veterans and family members would not obtain the benefits and entitlements they have earned,” said Reggie Worlds, MDVA Deputy Commissioner of Program and Services.
Legislative Director, MDVA
Once again another budget year has come to an end - but not without challenges. The Legislature literally finished their work in the eleventh hour - minutes before midnight on May 20 – and achieved much in order to keep Minnesota moving ahead. It was a strong year for Veterans. Initiatives that were necessary and supported by the Governor and the legislature was able to put the final linchpin in several Veterans initiatives. Governor Dayton delivered a budget that invests in Minnesota Veterans, ensuring they receive the education, opportunities, and benefits they earned through their service.
» Minneapolis Veterans Home. The budget includes $18.9 million in the bonding bill to complete Phase 3 of the Minneapolis Veterans Home replacement project. With this state funding, the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs hopes to leverage $35.2 million in federal funds through a competitive grant process and will provide high-quality skilled nursing services for Minnesota’s Veterans.
» Expansion of the Minnesota GI Bill. With an additional $1 million investment, the Minnesota GI Bill program will expand to include all generations of veterans – not just those serving on or after 9/11. This expansion will help ensure all Minnesota veterans have access to the education and training they need to get good-paying jobs.
» One-on-One Help for Veterans. The budget provides $2 million in increased grant funding for County Veteran Services Offices, which help veterans and their families obtain the benefits and services they earned through military service.
» Proper Burial for Military Veterans. Governor Dayton is committed to ensuring all veterans who request funeral honors receive them. For that reason, this budget includes $400,000 in permanent funding for the Honor Guard Program, which supports veterans and their families by providing military funeral honors earned through their service and sacrifice.
» Supporting Military Families after the Loss of a Loved One. The budget provides $200,000 in permanent funding for the Gold Star Program, which supports the families of those service members who lost their lives in combat as they heal from their loss. This state funding commitment will help restore the program after losing authority to use federal funds.
» New State Veterans Cemetery in Fillmore County. The state will invest $425,000 in start-up and on-going funding for a new state veterans cemetery in Fillmore County, opening in 2015. This cemetery will provide burial space for nearly 40,000 veterans. Governor Dayton believes every veteran deserves a dignified final resting place.
» Addressing Veteran Homelessness. This budget includes $500,000 in increased grant funding for the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, which works in collaboration with community organizations to help veterans and their families who are experiencing homelessness.
» Information Technology Upgrades. The administration invested $5 million to improve and modernize the department’s information technology which will benefit the the Veterans Homes Residents care as well as the Programs and Services provided by MDVA.
Another positive aspect of the session that surfaced through Speaker of the House Paul Thissen’s leadership is a Select Committee on Veterans Housing was established. Members of the Select Committee include:
Representatives Jerry Newton (Chair), Alice Hausman, Matt Dean, Mary Murphy, Bob Dettmer, Karen Clark, Paul Anderson, Tom Huntley, and Jim Abeler. These members are the Chairs and Minority Leads of the Capital Investment, State Government Finance and Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services Finance, and Housing Finance and Policy Committees. This select group of tenured legislators has the task of looking into these issues and submitting their findings by February 1, 2014.
We would like to give kudos to a few organizations that really helped all the Veterans initiatives come to fruition this session. First and foremost is the Commanders’ Task Force (CTF). The CTF is the collective voice of Minnesota Veterans and is comprised of the nine largest Congressionally Chartered Veterans Service Organizations in the state; the American Ex-Prisoners of War, American Legion, AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, Jewish War Veterans, Marine Corps League, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Vietnam Veterans of America. Also, a special thanks is extended to Aging Services for their role in supporting the effort for the completion of the Minneapolis Veterans Home.
Lastly, in the coming months, MDVA staff will be promoting all the new legislation and visiting Veterans facilities and locations. We look forward to visiting with you to ensure you understand these new laws and we look forward to hearing your concerns.
For a complete list of new laws visit: http://mn.gov/governor/resources/legislation/.
To all those involved in making life better for Minnesota Veterans this year, thank you.