With Historic State Spending, Let’s Finish Our Veterans Home
I was disappointed this year to see the Minneapolis Veterans Home “Phase 3” project rejected by my Democrat colleagues in the Minnesota House. As a Veteran myself, I understand the critical need for the legislature to continue funding the Home’s “master plan” which was started in 2010. Before I was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives, I served as a Chief Warrant Officer in the U.S. Army Reserve, and have concentrated much of my time in St. Paul on Veterans issues. While Governor Dayton asked the House and Senate to include funding for the project in their bonding bill, they did not, nor did they include it in the State Government Finance and Veterans Affairs Omnibus bill. We should follow the lead of Department of Veterans Affairs on issues like this one, not the political winds. The House bonding bill alone could borrow over $800 million for dozens of projects all over Minnesota, but doesn’t include this key provision. Some of those projects, like millions for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and for new metro parks, can wait.
This isn’t a partisan issue; it’s an issue of priorities. While state government will spend roughly $4 billion more in hardworking taxpayer’s money over the next two years, there certainly should have been room for this $54 million project in the budget. Plus, with state funding, we’ll be able to repay over half the cost with federal funding designated for projects like this. The first phase in the project is already complete, and the second phase is already in motion, but requires third phase funding to finish. In fact, delays so far have forced contracts for the second phase to be cancelled. The final phase is critical to the Minneapolis Veterans Home because of safety hazards involved in delaying completion. Several necessary upgrades and additions have already been constructed, but the final phase involves obligatory bed capacity expansions and infrastructure upgrades. Delaying the project could result in facility blackouts, IT and security problems, and the current set up would not even meet CMS (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services) certification requirements. Much of the funding for the overall project comes from the federal government, but not without state investment first. Without CMS approval, the facility can’t bill Medicare for some of the costs we incur to care for these vets.
There are 372,000 living veterans in Minnesota and five facilities to serve them: Minneapolis, Hastings, Luverne, Fergus Falls and Silver Bay. But 225,000 vets live within 60 miles of the Minneapolis Veterans Home (nearly 68,000 just in Hennepin County). 44% of our veterans are age 65 or older, many of whom deserve residency in one of our few homes around the state if they need it. Our current capacity to serve these men and women who have served our country is very limited. With several hundred vets on the waiting list already, this third phase project is one step towards correcting this injustice. The legislature had the opportunity to act this year, and I’m sorry to report that so far they haven’t.
Minnesotans will get many new things from this legislature this year, including higher taxes, but they won’t get enough to care for our veterans. I worked with members of both parties early on to create a veterans omnibus bill so that these important issues wouldn’t be tied up in the politics of gigantic, partisan omnibus bills we see come and go every budget cycle. Our efforts were strong, but in the end, many of the issues for our vets were tossed to the wayside. I hope my colleagues will join me in the future to build on these efforts and make veterans more of a priority.