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RELEASE: 2021 House Veterans & Military Affairs bill earns committee approval

Friday, March 26, 2021

SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Today, the House Labor, Industry, and Veterans Affairs Committee unanimously approved the 2021 House Veterans & Military Affairs Finance & Policy Bill. The legislation, authored by committee chair Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL – International Falls), contains a variety of funding and policy initiatives to help Minnesota veterans, including significant investments to address veteran homelessness and prevent veteran suicides.

“This past year has been difficult for Minnesotans as a result of COVID-19, and throughout it all, our dedicated military veterans and service members continue to make sacrifices and face challenges,” Rep. Ecklund said. “I’m proud of the bipartisan, thoughtful work we’ve done in this committee to deliver solutions to help ensure those who’ve served can have the healthy and successful future they deserve.”

The legislation includes $6.33 million in new funding toward addressing veteran homelessness. The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA) estimates there are approximately 150 Minnesota homeless veterans who aren’t eligible for housing services through the VA. The new funding will be used to provide housing vouchers and help the MDVA work with the Interagency Council on Homelessness to identify individuals on the Homeless Veteran Registry and provide them with necessary help.

The bill also invests $1.65 million to prevent suicides among veterans, the funding from which will go toward hiring new staff at the MDVA devoted to preventing veteran suicide, increasing outreach, training, and marketing efforts to raise awareness, and strengthen partnerships with local units of government, mental health care providers, state agencies, and other partners. MDVA would also perform an intensive review of records of veterans who have died by suicide to identify trends and warning signs.

Overall, the bill contains a $16.7 million increase in the MDVA’s budget, mainly to fund increases for the state’s five veterans homes. Other provisions in the bill include:

  • The Veterans Restorative Justice Act, which creates alternative sentencing options for veterans who commit certain crimes resulting from service-related trauma. The measure builds upon the Veterans Court model to help eligible veterans receive chemical dependency or mental health treatment as opposed to incarceration
  • Numerous changes to the state’s Code of Military Justice, which addresses court martial proceedings and criminal violations by members of the armed forces
  • Authorizes MDVA to share data with the Minnesota Interagency Council on Homelessness and Homeless Veteran Registry partners to quickly help veterans experiencing homelessness
  • Several changes regarding the process for selecting the Adjutant General for the Minnesota National Guard
  • Creation of a task force to recognize the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks
  • Technical changes to the Minnesota GI Bill
  • Authorization of Adult Day Care and Dental Services at VA homes
  • Changing Veterans Suicide Awareness Day to Veterans Suicide Prevention and Awareness Day
  • A technical change to the Personal Needs Allowance calculation for residents of VA homes
  • Authorization for the MDVA to contract for public relations

The legislation now goes to the House Ways and Means Committee for further consideration.

Video of the hearing will be available on House Public Information Services’ YouTube channel. More information, including documents from the hearing, is available on the committee webpage.