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COMMENTARY: Failure to act on veterans home means loss of federal funding

If we attach to the state having access to "only 144 beds unallocated" from the federal government, what must be said is that these beds are the potential federal monies reimbursement portion piece for the design-build/staffing of additional state veterans homes. Beltrami County/Bemidji has been identified as a prime location in the establishment of additional veterans homes.

Unless or until the Minnesota Legislature acts to appropriate monies for the establishment of veterans homes, either by bonding or direct appropriation, the 144 beds appropriation or reimbursement eligibility from the federal government is moot. If Minnesota doesn't "move", some other state will "grab" the federal appropriation piece. Consequently, reimbursement from the Feds for the 144 beds for the establishment of state veterans homes would be lost to us.

The governor indicates a need to study the operating cost of veterans homes in his disallowance of state bonding or direct appropriation monies for the Beltrami County/Bemidji Veterans Home. Directly accessible to the governor are the operational cost particulars of pre-existing state veterans homes as available through the Office of the Commissioner of Veterans Affairs. These cost particulars can be predicated on the following: For every dollar that is put into the construction of a (new) Veterans Home, the Feds will match with $2. For every state dollar for operation, it is matched by either the Feds or self-pay from the veteran. Both are good deals for extending state dollars in taking care of veterans.

The urgency of establishing an additional veterans home in northern Minnesota is self-evident: there is a waiting list of roughly 1,500 Minnesota veterans awaiting placement in pre-existing facilities. The 16-County Catchment area contiguous to Beltrami County contains 28,000-plus veterans who are unserved or underserved. We do not gainsay on any other Minnesota vicinity finding needy veterans in residence therewithin. We merely let the facts stand upon their own merit. The 28,000-plus veterans in northern and northwestern Minnesota within its geographic vastness are found to be residing two, three and four hours distant from existing facilities, and are identified as having been unserved or underserved as a consequence. Veterans are in need of residential and nursing home care, and specialty care to accommodate, among others, physical and mental trauma, including traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorders. These, our military, both men and women, represent as well, the largest population complement of American Indian veterans to be found anywhere within the state of Minnesota. All have incurred service disabilities or health care needs consequent to their military service or combat duties. Services delayed have been services denied.

We in this area have been toiling in the hinterlands since 2007, in our efforts to establish the veterans home, and we should no longer be left wanting.

Another perquisite: For there to be a veterans home established in any community, there needs to have been pre-existing, a Community-Based Outpatient (Veterans) Clinic, and that we have here.

Site location predicated on need should predominate. Sanford Health systems has donated 15 acres of land valued at about $1 million on its large Bemidji campus where the home, and within it, the Community-Based Outpatient (Veterans) Clinic, can be co-located, both adjacent to the Sanford Hospital and Clinic. Beltrami County has pledged $1 million toward the design-build, equipment or staffing of the veterans home facility, with other contiguous or conjoining jurisdictions or entities following suit with, or contemplating pledge monies.

New health care partnerships heretofore not contemplated can be effectuated with Sanford Health systems. The Northern Minnesota Veterans Home can be staffed with a full complement of career professionals having been educated and trained at immediately-nearby Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College with and through these entities' health care preparedness programs.

Primacy should always be serving veterans and the need attached thereto; economic development advantage, though well it may be, should not be the incentive to develop and establish veterans homes. The need of service to veterans holds primacy. Our tactics and our passions are predicated on need only. It has been said that keeping Veterans close to home is a great gift. Indeed it is: Beltrami County and Bemidji, an emergent regional center for health care and educational pursuits, is the "local" access point for all of northern Minnesota, and for veterans and their families as well. And for all of us, all of northern Minnesota is "close to home".

I want to thank all electeds, veterans organizations and certainly the general public, all of whom have given enduring support to bring the veterans home to full realization.

I read quoted, "Veterans have taken care of us. We need now to take care of them." On this, I trust there is full agreement.

Joe Vene is former chair of the Northern Minnesota Veterans Home Task Force. He lives in Bemidji.