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.
[MORE — See the spreadsheet]
“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:
Biennial funding for the Department of Military Affairs includes:
Other notable provisions would:
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: