Veterans and Military Affairs

Veterans and Military Affairs Omnibus BillSenate Republicans unveiled their omnibus finance and policy bill in committee. With a target of $8 million in the biennium, the bill broadly funds both department’s budget requests.

While the bill provides full funding to the Department of Military Affairs, it leaves some budget requests within the Department of Veterans Affairs underfunded. In committee, Commissioner Henke expressed concern that the underfunding could result in impacts to 20 FTE’s that provide Veteran health care services. The commissioner stated this would require adjustments to staff ratios that could impact the ability to provide quality care to Veterans.

The bill includes a variety of bipartisan policy provisions. Along with technical changes to current law, these issues include:

  • Establishing a Veterans Suicide Prevention and Awareness Day (SF 1511)
  • Expanding access to dental services to Veteran home residents (SF 91)
  • Allowing a publicity representative for the Department of Veterans Affairs (SF 364)
  • Authorizing Veteran adult daycare programs (SF 93)
  • Implementing a Veterans Stable Housing Initiative (SF 363)
  • Creating a Capitol flag program for Minnesota’s fallen soldiers and first responders (SF 485)

The bill received unanimous support in committee and was recommended to pass and rereferred to the Finance Committee. As Minnesota’s fiscal outcome continues to improve, Senate DFLers will continue to fight for full funding for our Veterans and National Guard. (SF 485)

Veterans Restorative Justice Act
A notable omission in the omnibus bill was the Veterans Restorative Justice Act. This bill seeks to expand veterans’ courts statewide and provide restorative justice pathways to Minnesota’s veterans who commit certain offenses that can be attributed to their service (PTSD, a traumatic brain injury, or other mental health issues).

Minnesota led the nation in establishing a veterans’ court system in 2008. Since then, veterans’ courts have been established throughout the state, but due to a lack of statewide standards, veterans are often treated differently for the same crime based on which county’s court system they go through.

A working group put together by the Veterans Defense Project, a group that advocates for adequate legal representation for veterans and works to advance the rehabilitation system for veterans involved in the criminal justice system, introduced a bill this session in committee that would establish statewide standards so that veterans can expect the same treatment across the state.

The bill passed out of the Veterans Committee and has not receive a hearing in the Judiciary Committee. The bill is included in the House Veterans Omnibus Bill. The fate of this bill this session remains uncertain. (SF 116)

MDVA Commissioner waits over two years for confirmation hearing, still not confirmed by Senate

The Veterans and Military Affairs Committee held a confirmation hearing for Acting Commissioner Larry Herke. As the Acting Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, Larry Herke has led the department through challenging times due to COVID-19 while spearheading Governor Walz’s push to end veteran homelessness. 

Acting Commissioner Herke has a distinguished career with over 30 years in public service. A proud Mankato State grad, his record reflects a lifetime of service to Minnesota and the United States, with deployments to Iraq with the Minnesota National Guard and recently as the Director of Enterprise Sustainability for the State of Minnesota. He is a Legion of Merit and Bronze Star Medal recipient.

Governor Walz appointed Acting Commissioner Herke on Jan. 7, 2019 but he has yet to be confirmed by the full Senate. Senate Republicans have held up the confirmation of Commissioner Herke and several other commissioners appointed by Governor Walz to use as leverage when commissioners or state agencies take action that goes against Republican priorities. Holding up the confirmation of an appointee with an unblemished service record for over two years, for the sake of gaining political leverage, is terrible governance and sets a terrible precedent.

The committee voted unanimously to send Acting Commissioner Larry Herke’s confirmation to the Senate floor with a recommendation. Senate Republicans have yet to bring Commissioner Herke’s confirmation to the floor.

Senate DFLers fight to ensure MIA/POWs are returned home
Senate DFLers advanced a bipartisan resolution that calls for the United States to continue ongoing work to return and account for all MIA/POW servicemembers.

According to the Department of Defense’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency, there remains 79,764 unaccounted for American servicemembers from WWII to the present in conflicts our nation has been engaged in around the globe. Of the total number of MIA/POW servicemembers, 1,571 Minnesotans remain unaccounted for.

The work of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is critical to the continued mission of the United States to account for and return missing U.S. personnel to their families. For more information on this ongoing work, please see the following video.

This resolution was passed unanimously and sent to the floor. (SF 1041)