Legislature OKs 9/11 bonus, veterans omnibus, Hastings

By Tim Engstrom

ST. PAUL — For the second year in a row, the Minnesota Legislature passed an omnibus bill for veterans and military affairs.

Members of the Commander’s Task Force, to include American Legion Department of Minnesota, had pushed for the veterans omnibus bill so that it sets a precedence.

“This should help our veterans legislation not become entangled in the politics of the State Capitol,” said Kristy Janigo, chairwoman of the Department Legislative Committee.

Gov. Tim Walz signed it into law May 15.

At Veterans Day on the Hill in late April, many lawmakers said they would work to ensure veterans had their own omnibus bill, and it happened. Here are highlights:

Post-9/11 Bonus expanded

Called HF1938, it provides a total appropriation of $146.5 million to the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs in the fiscal year beginning July 1, and $132 million in the following fiscal year.

Within that funding, the state provides a one-time $15 million boost for the Post-9/11 Bonus program. The initial bonus was passed last year, to the tune of $30 million, but it did not provide bonuses to post-9/11 veterans in present-day Minnesota who entered the military from other states. It also neglected veterans who had served in Operation Inherent Resolve, the successful effort to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

American Legion Department of Minnesota Comptroller Rachael Hill testified before House and Senate committees, explaining her family moved to Ohio from Minnesota through no fault of her own. After leaving the Air Force, she returned to Minnesota as a Gold Star spouse, where she raises her two sons, and she felt it was unfair for her home state to exclude her.

“It means a lot to be included,” she said. “It feels great we got this done for many veterans across the state.”

The funding begins after June 30. Go to the MDVA’s website, minnesotaveteran.org/servicebonus, to find the application portal or visit a county veteran service officer.

The basic bonus is $600 for veteran or current servicemember serving between Sept. 11, 2001, and Aug. 30, 2021.

If the veteran or servicemember received campaign medals that show they deployed to the combat operation, such as Iraq or Afghanistan, they may receive $1,200.

The beneficiary of a veteran who died as a result of their service and was awarded one of the campaign medals may receive $2,000.

Other veteran-related items in the bill

Other funding for the biennium (two years) on the veterans part of the omnibus bill are:
• $4.28 million in each year for state veterans cemeteries.
• $500,000 each year for grants to veteran service organizations.
• $200,000 each year for compensation for honor guards.
• $200,000 each year for Minnesota G.I. Bill.
• $100,000 each year for the Gold Star Program.
• $1.55 million each year for the County Veteran Service Office Grant program.
• $300,000 each year for the Veteran Resilience Project.
• $1.23 million each year for the Counseling and Case Management Outreach Referral and Education program.
• $369,000 each year for the operation of the state’s LinkVet Call Center.
• $350,000 each year for the operation of a program for recently separated veterans.
• $1.04 million to operate the homeless veteran registry and homeless veteran programs.
• $7.87 million each year for the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans.
• $540,000 each year for a grant to Metro Meals on Wheels.
• $225,000 the second year for a grant to the Minnesota Military & Veterans Museum.
• $100,000 each year for a grant to Every Third Saturday in South Minneapolis.
• $4.31 million the first year and $1.31 million the second for an MDVA veteran homelessness initiative.
• $744,000 the first year for grants to Veterans Campground on Big Marine Lake for wastewater system upgrades.
• $90 million the first year and 100.8 million the second for veterans health care. This is the appropriation for operating the Minnesota Veterans Homes. Keep in mind, this is the state portion of the MDVA budget and does not reflect federal revenue or other revenue sources. One new item listed is $400,000 each year to staff “veteran community health navigators” in community hospitals around Minnesota.

The Military Affairs portion

The Minnesota National Guard and the Minnesota Department of Military Affairs are the same thing. This figure is the state portion of funding for the Minnesota National Guard, and it does not reflect its federal revenue or other revenue sources.

The state appropriated $61 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1 and $29.4 million for the following fiscal year.

Two reasons for the disparity in the two figures are $17.6 million the first year for designing and constructing the Army Combat Fitness Test Field House at the Arden Hills Army Training Site and $14.1 million the first year for construction of the Minnesota Military & Veterans Museum outside Camp Ripley.

Hastings gets its campus upgrade

Not all the veteran-related items fall conveniently into the veterans omnibus bill.

In the infrastructure package, lawmakers saw fit to fund replacements or repairs of many buildings at the Hastings Veterans Home and to fund repairs to the other veterans homes.

The infrastructure package was the combination of two bills, and some projects were funded with bonding and others with cash allocation. There are local veteran-themed projects funded in the package, too:
• $77.7 million to MDVA for the Hastings Veterans Home campus revitalization. This funding will open up an estimated $144.2 million in federal money to assist with the $222 million price tag. It includes replacing six of the nine buildings of the former state-operated mental hospital. It has served veterans since 1978.
• $12.4 million to MDVA for asset preservation of its veterans homes and cemeteries
• $5 million to Dakota County, for the Veterans Memorial Greenway.
• $350,000 to City of Bloomington, for a veterans memorial.
• $250,000 to City of Forest Lake, for a veterans memorial.
• $50,000 to City of Parkers Prairie, for Veterans Memorial Park.
• $2 million to a museum in St. Paul, to honor veterans of a Hmong special guerilla unit.