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More help for vets? Service officers and organizations could see more funding

Veterans looking for assistance in their post-service lives could get more help as lawmakers may provide additional funding for people and organizations dedicated to helping veterans.

The House Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee held over two bills Wednesday that deal with increasing appropriations to county veteran services officers and veteran service organizations.

Sponsored by Rep. Tou Xiong (DFL-Maplewood), HF4333 would increase the state’s annual appropriation to county veteran services officers from $1.1 million to $1.55 million.

“We have not seen an increase for 13 years,” said Mike Maxa, adjutant for the American Legion of Minnesota. “We all know that the cost of doing business and inflation has been going up over the years. Just this past year, we approached an 8% inflation.”

The bill would also allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to award funds for programs the commissioner deems to be “new and innovative in serving veterans and their families.”

Each county in Minnesota is mandated to employ a veteran services officer. The funding for this program hasn’t changed since 2013. The amount is determined by the population of veterans in each county.

“We count on grants to provide outreach, assistance in the reintegration of combat veterans, collaboration with other agencies to enhance our services and heed the governor’s mandate to eliminate veteran homelessness,” said Greg Peterson, legislative director for the Minnesota Association of County Veterans Service Officers.

The companion bill, SF4112, is sponsored by Sen. Andrew Lang (R-Olivia) and awaits action by the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee.

The second bill is HF4335. Sponsored by Rep. Heather Edelson (DFL-Edina), it would increase from $353,000 to $500,000 the annual grant appropriation to congressionally chartered veteran service organizations, such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Military Order of the Purple Heart. It has no Senate companion.

The appropriation has not increased since 2009. The amount is determined by two factors: a set dollar amount per member and the percentage of the organization’s share VA claims workload for veterans and dependents who live in Minnesota.

“Today, CVSOs and VSOs work together closely on claims for federal benefits to ensure our veterans and their dependents receive their rightful benefits,” Peterson said. “I want you to know as a CVSO, I depend on each of our VSOs unique missions they perform in Minnesota.”

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