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Veterans and military affairs omnibus bill moves to next stop

The House Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Division listens to a nonpartisan staff walk-through of its omnibus finance bill April 2. Photo by Andrew VonBank

A pair of departments that serve those who serve — or have served — our country could receive additional funding in the 2020-21 biennium.

The House Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Division approved its omnibus bill Tuesday, one that includes both policy matters and financing for the Veterans Affairs and Military Affairs departments.

The total 2020-21 biennial appropriations call for veterans affairs to receive $153.31 million and military affairs to receive $47.74 million. Those totals reflect a combined $4.34 million in new funding.

[MORESee the spreadsheet]

The division approved HF2086, as amended, and sent it to the House Ways and Means Committee.

“I’m proud that we’ve worked together to assemble a budget that does right by those who are currently serving and those veterans who have previously made sacrifices for our nation,” said Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls), chair of the division and the bill sponsor.

Ecklund said an example of that commitment is the “military veteran offenders restorative justice” provisions in the bill, which would establish new sentencing recommendations for veterans who have experienced PTSD or other service-related disorders.

The provisions would require courts to refer such veterans charged with severity Level 7 or lower offenses to treatment for substance abuse or mental health problems rather than jail or prison.

Brock Hunter, president of the Veterans Defense Project, said the restorative justice program “is a ground-breaking bill … that will serve as a national model.”

“It represents unprecedented cooperation and collaboration among prosecutors, defense attorneys, and other criminal justice stakeholders,” he said.

Maj. Gen. Jon Jensen of the Minnesota Army National Guard, testified that the $116,000 that would fund military re-integration programs was not sufficient, and a nearly 80 percent reduction of the original funding request by the Department of Military Affairs.

The so-called “yellow ribbon programs” help military personnel reaching or nearing the end of a deployment re-integrate into civilian society by teaching them job-searching and other skills.

“Walking back our support to our service members and their families does not show them the support they deserve,” he said.

Rep. Bob Dettmer (R-Forest Lake) agreed that more re-integration funding would be invaluable for members of the military, and hoped that there would be “some wiggle room” in the division’s budget to come up with extra funds.

Ecklund replied that division members should view the omnibus bill as a work in progress, and pledged to work with Dettmer to find more funding.

Biennial funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs includes:

  • $116.58 million for veterans’ health care;
  • $2.2 million for county veterans service offices;
  • $1.5 million for the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans;
  • $1.5 million for the Counseling and Case Management, Outreach, Referral and Education program to address veteran homelessness; and
  • $400,000 for a Veterans Justice Grant Program to support veterans who fall into the criminal justice system.

Biennial funding for the Department of Military Affairs includes:

  • $21.98 million for enlistment incentives;
  • $19.4 million to maintain training facilities; and
  • $6.36 million for general support.

Other notable provisions would:

  • provide a $775,000 operating adjustment for state veterans’ cemeteries;
  • appropriate $100,000 for the expansion of the Armed Forces Service Center at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport;
  • fund the construction of a Minnesota Medal of Honor Commemorative Memorial; and
  • provide ongoing funding for maintenance at Camp Ripley and the Twin Cities and Duluth air bases.

What’s in the bill?

The following are selected bills that have been incorporated in part or in whole into the omnibus veterans and military affairs finance bill:

 


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