Veterans and Military Affairs
The Veterans and Military Affairs Committee focused last session on making small improvements with big impacts for veterans, including expanding use of the GI Bill, protecting the current benefits of Minnesota’s retired military and veterans, and making tax credits and other benefits for veterans more accessible. There was discussion of funding for new veterans’ homes in state and local government, including a proposal that would use stadium funding to pay for new construction. That proposal was taken off the table, but discussion around veterans’ homes continued.
What has happened in this issue area since last session?
Conversations, particularly in Greater Minnesota, continue around access to veterans’ homes. Communities in Greater Minnesota with proposals for new veterans’ homes continue to advocate and fundraise for those proposals. There is also ongoing discussion about changes to the veterans’ home in Minneapolis.
There is continued concern about the federal VA system. There is also concern over the difficulties in upgrading the VA benefit system that was made worse by the Forever GI Bill passed by Congress in 2017. This may mean a renewed interest in further investing in Minnesota’s GI bill, in order to protect qualifying veterans from the uncertainty in the program at the federal level.
Conversations have also continued about ways to give back to Minnesota’s veterans through tax credits and other benefit extensions.
What is expected to happen this session?
2019 is a budget year, which means the Departments of Military and Veterans Affairs will likely seek additional funding. There will be continued discussion on shoring up incentive accounts due to changes in the federal budget. The Legislature may also see discussion around building new or expanding current veterans’ homes, as well as expanding tax credits for veterans. There will also likely be legislation around expanding other benefits and reducing costs for veterans, including reductions in vehicle registration, lowering of fishing and hunting license fees, and decreased entrance fees for state parks.
It’s also worth noting that Governor-elect Tim Walz is a veteran himself, which may mean a renewed focus from the executive branch on taking care of the state’s veterans.
Budget increase for departments
Both the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Military Affairs may ask for an increase in their budgets.
Veterans homes building and expansions
Minnesota is allotted 1,058 veterans’ beds by the US Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA). Of this, the state is utilizing 824 beds. The remaining 234 beds has led to many years of discussion around building new veterans’ homes or refurbishing current VA space to utilize more of these beds. This conversation is expected to continue this session, as new homes, or replacing beds lost during a recent facilities upgrade to the Minneapolis veterans’ home, would be a prudent use of the budgetary balance that is one-time money.
Other budget considerations
Projects that aim to serve the state’s veterans, including community projects, de-escalation grants, education programs regarding mental health and PTSD, and new funding sources for honor guards may be considered when the Legislature puts together the state’s budget for the year.
Assorted tax credits to be considered
Various veterans’ tax credits and exclusions, including the disabled veterans homestead market value exclusion as well as a veterans’ nursing home tax credit may be expanded or implanted as the state looks at a tax bill.
Veterans Hiring Preference
Both the Minnesota executive and judicial branches are expected to use veterans’ preference when hiring new staff. There will likely be legislation that aims to extend that to the legislative branch this session.