Rachael Hill is an Air Force veteran who grew up in Moorhead, Minn., and moved back to the state with her young sons in 2010 to be closer to family after her husband was killed in a training accident in Alaska, where the couple was stationed.
But Hill is currently not eligible for a bonus payment available to many other Minnesota veterans because the 2022 law authorizing that money contained a requirement that to be eligible a person must have had a Minnesota address when they entered the service.
“I don’t qualify for the post 9/11 bonus because I entered active duty from Ohio,” Hill told the House Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee. She said, as it is now written, the law does not consider her a valuable member of the state she has worked to serve and again calls home.
Members heard two bills on Monday meant to help Hill and others in the same situation. Sponsored by Rep. Brian Pfarr (R-Le Sueur), HF656 would expand eligibility requirements for the service bonuses, while HF1112, as amended, which is sponsored by Rep. Peggy Bennett (R-Albert Lea), would appropriate $22 million from the General Fund in fiscal year 2024 to help pay for them.
Both were laid over for possible omnibus bill inclusion.
The 2022 omnibus veterans and military affairs finance law included a $24 million appropriation for service bonuses to post 9/11 veterans and Gold Star families. The Department of Veterans Affairs has awarded the bonuses to veterans who have served in America’s wars, and veterans who served honorably between Sept. 11, 2001, and Aug. 30, 2021 are now eligible for a $600 bonus.
That amount increases to $1,200 for veterans who received any of the following:
Veterans who were eligible for those medals and died during that period as a direct result of a service-connected injury, disease, or condition can receive a $2,000 bonus that would go to their beneficiary.
Pfarr’s bill would expand the eligibility requirements for two groups that were simply missed by the law – those who received an Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal or a Kosovo Campaign Medal – while eliminating the residency requirement.
Ben Johnson, legislative director for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the agency supports expanding eligibility. The appropriation is included in the budget proposed by Gov. Tim Walz.
Johnson said that since the 2022 law became effective in July, the department has received nearly 22,000 applications for the bonus and approved 18,337 as of last week, mailing checks totaling $19.6 million to recipients.
“There is a demand for this,” Johnson said.