Scotty Allison: Veterans in the news in St. Paul
BEMIDJI — Here are some legislative bills and their associated amendments concerning veterans currently being reviewed at the state Legislature in St. Paul:
•HF2233: This allows military retirees and those who are medically separated from the military with fewer than 20 years of service a subtraction of income from state taxes from their pension or retirement pay. This subtraction equals $1,500 for every year of military service. Twenty years of service would be equal to a $30,000 subtraction. If you file jointly, your spouse would also get this credit.
•HF2261: Veterans with service-connected disabilities greater than 70 percent now may receive a homestead value exclusion on property taxes if they apply. If a disabled veteran who has a 100 percent total and permanent disability dies first, their spouse is eligible to continue the exclusion for the current tax year and an additional five years and then it goes away. Changes to this bill would remove this timeline and the exclusion would remain in effect until the spouse remarries, sells, transfers or otherwise disposes of the property.•HF2557: This bill makes major changes in admissions priorities to Veterans Homes within Minnesota. As it stands now, if you are an honorably discharged veteran and have served 181 days on active duty, are a resident of Minnesota or your service was credited to Minnesota when you joined the military and you have a medical need to be under nursing or domiciliary care, you are eligible to be housed in one of our state Veterans Homes. To gain admittance you must apply and it is based on date of application and your specific needs being able to be met at that particular Veterans Home. If the amendments to this bill pass, Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, former prisoners of war, Purple Heart recipients, and veterans with 70 percent or higher service-connected disability ratings will be given first priority in admissions. All other veterans will be second priority. Additionally in both cases, priority will be given to veterans with a documented two-year residency in this state immediately prior to admission, or to those veterans who lived in this state at the time they entered the Armed Forces.This really tightens up the admission standards to all of our Veterans Homes.Whether this is good or bad, you have to make that determination.However, from my position as the County Veterans’ advocate, I am opposed to this as it could exclude a great number of our veterans from ever being admitted to one of our Veterans Homes.Many of the veterans in the second priority group are those with the greatest need to be in a home and could be excluded solely based on the number of applicants coming from the first priority group.The two-year residency requirement also seems to be overly onerous.Many of our families move their elderly veteran parents back into this state to take care of them and to be close to them.A two-year waiting period just seems far too long as care requirements could change rapidly.I am not saying that there should not be a residency requirement, but it should be shorter and part of it should be based on the situation.It is also my opinion that this is primarily a budget-driven decision.The care for veterans with 70 percent or higher service-connected disability ratings who reside in a Veterans Home is fully funded by the Veterans Administration (federal funding).This saves the state money as they do not have to pay for the care of veterans who meet the 70 percent service-connected standard. Bottom Line: If you are a veteran or a person who cares about veterans’ issues, you should read up on all these bills and make your voice known to your representatives if you either agree or disagree with what you read. The Veterans Administration (VA) will soon be issuing updated Veterans Health Identification Cards. Beginning in April, VA will automatically mail cards to enrolled veterans who were previously issued cards.It is important that veterans who are already enrolled ensure the address the VA has on file is correct so you can receive your card in a timely manner.To update or to confirm your address, call (877) 222-8387. You will have to talk to the operator (0) if you want to check/update your address. If the Post Office cannot deliver your card, it will be returned to the VA.For new veteran enrollees in the VA Health Care System, they will have to go to their supporting medical centers to get their card.The Fargo VA Medical Center expects to have this capability in place by the end of March.The Bemidji VA Outpatient Clinic will eventually be able to generate identification cards; however, when this will happen is still to be determined.Don’t forget, if you have any questions regarding veteran benefits, please call the County Veterans Service Office at (218) 333-4177/4178.SCOTTY ALLISON is the Beltrami County Veterans Service Officer