Veterans and Military Affairs Omnibus Budget Bill
The Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs (MDVA) and the Minnesota National Guard received their full funding request thanks to Governor Walz and DFLers in the Legislature. With a target of $30.88 million for MDVA and $500,000 for the National Guard, both departments received their requested operating adjustment and other important projects, and initiatives were given the green light.
While the original Senate Republican target provided full funding to the National Guard, it underfunded MDVA which would have resulted in detrimental staff reductions within veterans’ health care and programs and services. Senate Republicans also underfunded project-specific requests such as the veteran homelessness prevention initiative and the 9/11 Task Force. Thanks to Governor Walz, DFLers, and strong support amongst veteran advocates, the compromise budget agreement is a big win for Minnesota’s veterans. (SF 2)
Notable items in SF 2 for Veterans and Military Affairs include:
Veteran Homelessness Prevention
Governor Walz has made ending veteran homelessness a key priority of his administration. The bill allocates $6,330,000 funds to the commissioner of MDVA to provide housing vouchers and support services to housing insecure veterans in Minnesota.
The bill includes full funding for three new veterans’ homes in Bemidji, Montevideo, and Preston. This funding will complement federal funding that was secured by DFL federal lawmakers. In past years DFLers have fought hard to secure these funds at both the state and federal level. The expansion to Minnesota’s veteran home network is a big step forward in ensuring veterans needing care and assistance are provided for.
Veterans Resilience Project
The bill appropriates $800,000 toward an initiative to provide eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy for veterans and service members suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder. (SF 2102)
Veteran home residents Personal Needs Allowance increase
Veteran homes residents are slated to receive an increase to their Personal Needs Allowance (PNA). The bill adjusts PNA to be based off the Minnesota Department of Human Services General Assistance program.
Redwood Falls veteran’s cemetery
The bill appropriates $4,500,000 to construct and equip the new veteran’s cemetery in Redwood Fall. This language came late into negotiations when federal partners delivered funding for the program which required a state match.
Veteran therapeutic retreats
The bill allocates a total of $200,000 towards recreational retreats for veterans with service-related injuries or disorders. $50,000 will go toward Veterans on the Lake and $150,000 will go toward Camp Bliss. These retreats include therapy, transportation, and recreational activities.
9/11 Task Force
A onetime appropriation of $500,000 is included to the Advisory Task Force on 9/11 and the Global War on Terrorism Remembrance. The 9/11 Task Force is charged with collecting, memorializing, and publishing the stories of Minnesotans’ service in the Global War on Terrorism Remembrance. The Task Force is also charged with hosting a remembrance program in September 2021.
Veterans Restorative Justice Act (VRJA)
A multi-year effort by advocates and DFLers, the bill establishes statewide guidelines for offending veterans whose offenses are linked to their service-related injuries and/or disabilities. This bill ensures that veterans are given equal treatment statewide and extends a second chance to our veterans.
In 2008, Minnesota was a leader in establishing veteran courts that permitted veterans whose service-related injuries are tied to their offenses to be diverted to a treatment program under the supervision of the veteran court system.
Upon successful completion of treatment, veterans would avoid further criminal proceedings against them. However, due to the lack of statewide guidelines, each veteran court operates differently which has created unequal treatment of veterans based on where the offense was committed.
Veteran courts blend drug and mental healthcare court principles to serve veterans and eligible active-duty military with an emphasis on sobriety, recovery, and stability. The treatment program is facilitated through government, nonprofit, and family support networks.
After stalling in the Republican controlled Judiciary Committee, Senate Republicans amended the State Government bill with new language that significantly watered down the bill and made it harder for veterans to access the treatment program. Thanks to the strong support by Governor Walz, House and Senate DFLers, and veteran advocates, the compromise language ensured that Minnesota prioritized giving our veterans a second chance and equal treatment before the law.
Veterans Suicide Prevention and Awareness Day
Veterans Suicide Awareness Day, the first Saturday of October, was changed to Veterans Suicide Awareness and Prevention Day. The bill directs the commissioner to organize programming for the day and promote the prevention and awareness of veteran suicides.
Veterans Stable Housing Initiative
The bill authorizes the MDVA commissioner to provide resources and support to assist veterans experiencing homelessness. The bill also authorizes the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs to share veteran data with the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness and Homeless Veterans Registry partners in order to respond quickly to veterans who are experiencing homelessness or are housing insecure. (SF 363)
Capitol Flag Program
Passed separately in regular session, this bill establishes a Capitol Flag Program to fly flags on the Capitol grounds and have those flags available to the family members of a public safety officer killed in the line of duty or a member of the United States armed forces who died while in active service. The bill also permits law enforcement canines to be adopted by their handlers when the dogs are retired.
Supplemental veteran services programs expansion
The MDVA commissioner is now permitted to provide adult day care programs for veterans and to provide support to veteran caregivers. Additionally, the commissioner is provided authorization to work with public and private partners to provide dental care services directly to residents of state veterans homes. (SF 93)
MDVA publicity representative permitted
This bill adds the Department of Veterans Affairs to the list of state departments and agencies who are permitted to use state funds to pay for the salary and expenses of a publicity representative.
Adjutant general vacancy and selection modifications
Makes several changes to the appointment and selection process of the Adjutant General of the Minnesota National Guard. Changes include clarifications of eligible persons, rank, term of service, and the appointment process. This was an agency bill.
GI bill technical changes
This bill makes technical changes to correct ambiguities in and clarify eligibility for benefits under Minnesota’s GI program. (SF 92)
Report on finances and usage of state veteran homes mandate
This prevision requires the commissioner of MDVA to provide a report to the Legislature on the finances and usage of MDVA veteran homes.
2021 Veterans and Military Affairs legislation that did not pass
Minnesota code of military justice reform
This was a National Guard agency bill that would have aligned Minnesota’s Military Code of Justice with the federal military code and made several technical modifications to Minnesota’s code of justice.