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Case made for northern Minnesota vets home

On April 14, a northern Minnesota contigent attended a hearing of the Senate Agriculture and Veterans Division, chaired by Sen. Jim Vickerman. The agenda included testimony advocating for construction bonding appropriation for veterans home construction, building renovation or facility establishment of health care for veterans in five areas of the state.

Presenting were Owatonna, Montevideo, Brainerd, Willmar and Bemidji. Testifying for Bemidji with me before the committee were District 4 Sen. Mary Olson and Beltrami County Commissioner Jim Lucachick. At-capacity attendance in Room 107 of the State Capitol by veterans and veterans groups, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and the Disabled American Veterans, gave evidence of full support for veterans health care.

There was unanimity of purpose among all groups in that one and all support veterans' needs everywhere. Telling testimony was given as well, that veterans health care needs to come through and from veterans-specific settings and surroundings -- this is needed for the military service experience of veterans to be fully understood, appreciated and accommodated as only veterans themselves, and their families, and veterans care professionals, can know.

As to the veterans northern Minnesota home -- the central focus of the proposal was that of serving veterans from a regional hub with pre-existing services (one being our well-established, pre-existing VA Veterans Outpatient Clinic); providing services to veterans within the geographic vastness of northern Minnesota in a 12 or 13 county area and more within which we have identified more than 32,000 veterans.

That's opposed to veterans having to go to facilities three, four or five hours away. Bemidji is building off of the Minnesota Governor's Long-term Care Advisory Commission Report -- the veterans northern Minnesota home will be a 21st century model for veterans health care, and will give substance to the report. We assert that when veterans return from military service, we need to take care of them with proximity accessibility to services. We have a large population of underserved or unserved veterans in our northern Minnesota area -- far distant from veterans homes anywhere.

A high emphasis was placed on the support which comes from the great American Indian reservations of Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth, located within our area, and containing many American Indian armed forces veterans. Cultural diversity will be an important part of all program offerings at our northern Minnesota veterans home.

Our concept is that of extending services "beyond the walls" in keeping veterans in-home and in-community as long as possible. From "beyond the walls" professional care planning and coordination and alternatives to institutional care, to partnerships with federal, state, tribal and local resources, to creating "centers of excellence" for chronic disease management, nursing and rehabilitating care in-facility.

And while veterans are in residence, we want to accommodate interaction with community, family, loved ones and friends. Indeed, one of the features is transient medical housing by which families can receive accommodations at the facility while visiting residents.

We are dedicated to meeting the needs of our rural veterans and their families in northern Minnesota, both now and in the future. With 430,000 veterans in Minnesota (and the number growing daily), 32,055 veterans in northern Minnesota itself, and a large bed placement waiting list throughout the state, we feel our project is well-grounded and fully validated.

Joe Vene is a Beltrami County commissioner and chairman of the Northern Minnesota Veterans Home Task Force.