Minnesota Veterans Affairs presents legislative update

MARSHALL – The most recent session of the Minnesota Legislature resulted in some positive things for veterans around the state, officials with the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs said Tuesday. Increased financial support for veterans’ programs will lead to expansions of the Minnesota G.I. Bill and state veterans’ homes, among other program boosts.

MDVA Deputy Commissioner Reggie Worlds and Legislative Director Mike McElhiney spoke to an audience of area residents on Tuesday as part of a “town hall” tour stopping at cities around Minnesota.

The Marshall visit coincided with a Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans StandDown event at the Marshall Area YMCA. The event included support and assistance services for area veterans on topics including military benefits, education and employment. MACV is a non-profit dedicated to serving veterans.

McElhiney talked to area veterans about legislative actions affecting vets that were approved in the 2013 session. One of the most significant was additional funding for the Minnesota G.I. Bill. McElhiney said the program will receive an additional $1 million, which will help open up eligibility for Minnesota G.I. Bill benefits to all generations of veterans.

“We went to the Legislature, and said, ‘We need to expand this,'” he said.

Another major piece of funding will be $18.9 million in state bonding money to help ongoing refurbishment of the Minneapolis veterans’ home, McElhiney said. The bonding dollars will help pay for one phase of the project, which includes demolition and rehabilitation of one part of the facility.

McElhiney said the MDVA is still looking for a possible location for a sixth veterans’ home in Minnesota. Part of the difficulty in opening another facility, he said, is a cap on the number of veterans’ home beds that can be available statewide. Some of the search will probably have to wait until after construction is complete on the latest phase of the Minneapolis home because it will help free up more spaces to work with, he said.

McElhiney said other state investments included money to upgrade MDVA information technology services to better help veterans and an increase of $2 million in grant money that county Veterans Services Officers can apply for.

“We’re pretty excited about that,” he said.

McElhiney and Worlds said all those developments will make an important difference in the lives of many Minnesota veterans. There are about 368,000 vets in Minnesota, Worlds said, and “there’s more and more of a need to take care of our veterans.”