A corrective story to one this newspaper published earlier this month: Local veterans groups spoke out about funding cuts it was seeing for its military funerals, which is indeed the case, but the article stated the cuts were coming from the state, when in fact they were federal cuts. Half a million dollars was sliced from the federal budget--money that was traditionally used to send National Guard members trained on the specifics of conducting a Military Honor Funeral. This cut means local veterans groups that were simply helping out with the funerals will now be responsible for learning and executing the entire funeral program. The cut rubbed veterans the wrong way, not because of the extra volunteer duties but more for the principle of it.
The error in the article may seem like merely a detail to many who only care that at the end of the day, a veteran program had seen a cut; however, to Minnesota state legislators who fight to enhance veteran care, it is an unfair misconception.
According to Rep. Steve Green (R) the $200,000 Minnesota designates for veterans to use in military funerals has not only stayed steady, but state lawmakers have actually increased funding in a couple of other areas where it will most certainly be felt: in their pocketbooks and in their physical and mental care.
There are several policy and funding changes that have come to fruition this biennium. For the first time in recent history, military veterans living in Minnesota will not be required to pay state income tax on their military retirement. The exemption made it into law in the omnibus spending bill that Governor Mark Dayton signed in June. The change will provide approximately $24.5 million in tax relief to roughly 18,000 military veterans throughout the state.
Funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs and state veterans homes has also increased by $17 million.
"The increased funding for MDVA's state veteran homes focuses on staffing," said Green. "This increased funding ensures that MDVA will be able to maintain its current staffing levels to make sure our veterans receive the best quality of care available."
Care for some veterans also includes mental health care, as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder continues to plague many military members dealing with the psychological aftermath of war and brain injuries caused by explosive devices. Although there are certainly no easy answers and quick fixes to these problems, the Minnesota state legislature has provided $150,000 to study the issue.
Policy changes new this year also include a provision that make it easier for veterans who own small businesses to get state government contracts.
Finally, the State Soldiers Assistance Fund saw an additional $200,000 in funding for the state's veteran's affairs office to be able to offer more grants to veterans in need of medical care or housing.
Minnesota State Representative Paul Marquart (D) says housing is one area lawmakers need to continue to address.
"About 25 percent of the homeless are veterans," said Marquart. "The state of Minnesota should not have a single homeless veteran, especially since in many cases the physical or mental disability that leads to the veteran's homelessness is the result of their service in the military. The state must assure housing for our veterans."
Minnesota lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree it's been a good couple of years on the state level but also seem to agree that more still needs to be done.
"We made it a priority to make improvements for veterans in the last two years, but more work remains for the upcoming biennium," Green said. "A good place to start would be by enacting the $13 million in tax relief for veterans the governor vetoed with the omnibus tax bill last spring. That bill passed the Legislature with nearly 90-percent bipartisan support and would have helped veterans by raising the income eligibility threshold and increasing the total credit."