It is hard to believe March is already upon us. The State Legislative Session is in full swing, and this week the Commander’s Task Force held their annual Veterans Day on the Hill event. This is a day when Veterans and families around the state unite on the issues that are most important in 2014.
I want to thank the Governor, the Legislature, and all our elected officials for their ongoing support of Veterans in this state. I am proud that Minnesota is one of the most Veteran-friendly states in the nation, but we cannot rest or become complacent. In fact, I believe that here at MDVA one of our greatest strengths is our ability to anticipate and encourage change. This willingness to find new and better ways to serve Minnesota Veterans and their families was evident over this last year as we provided relief to Veterans through special needs grants to help keep them in their homes, opened the nation’s second Veteran focused Adult Day Center, explored new ways of outreach, launched an award-winning website, and made education more accessible to the Veterans who need it most. This might sound like an impressive list, but I can assure you we still have more work to do!
February is designated Black History Month, a month in which we reflect on the great contributions made by this community of heroes. I want to especially thank someone who played a transformational role in my life. Let me explain!
As a young, naive Lieutenant in Vietnam, I ‘commanded’ a five-man team of Advisors. We lived with the Vietnamese and supported their Popular and Regional Forces. One of my team members was named Hindu, an African American E7, Special Operations Forces qualified, Infantryman. Being from Northern Minnesota, not an area known for diversity, my experience with African Americans was limited. I was blessed to have gotten to know Hindu. On evening nights when all was quiet, we would talk. As time went on, Hindu would open up a little more and share some of his experiences as a young African American man growing up in Mississippi. Not something we as a nation could be proud of! Hindu taught me more during these evening talks than I ever would gain in a ‘diversity seminar.’ Thank you Hindu for being a part of my life, and I think of you as well as Mazz, Ketchum, and Bent!
The activities of our office have increased as the weather turns colder. Several key events occurred recently that contributed to the increase. First was our open house and ribbon cutting for the remodeled claims office at the St. Paul Claims Office in the Bishop Henry Whipple Federal Building. The renovations were long awaited and the open house was well attended. The new facilities will enable our staff to serve Veterans more effectively. I also thank the leadership at the Whipple Building for their support during the extensive remodeling period. I am proud of the partnership our agency has with the Federal VA staff. Another event was the groundbreaking for a new State Veterans Cemetery in Southeastern Minnesota. The 169-acre site was donated by Fillmore County and is located just off Highway 52 in Preston, Minn. Often burial is the only benefit Veterans claim and we are pleased to expand burial service to Veterans in Southeastern Minnesota.
The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is Veterans Day! The date was chosen to commemorate World War I, which ended on November 11, 1918. It was officially established by Congress on June 4, 1926 as Armistice Day. The word Armistice was later replaced with the word Veteran. The purpose of Veterans Day and Memorial Day are often confused. Memorial Day is for honoring military personnel who died in service to their country. Veterans Day is for thanking all men and women who have served honorably in the military during times of war and peace.
To all Veterans – “Thank you for your service!”
If you haven’t had the opportunity to listen to the Minnesota Military Radio show yet, I encourage you to do so! Starting out by broadcasting on one station, Tom Lyons, show host and creator, has steadily built a statewide network of stations across Minnesota. Tom brings in guests and ‘subject matter experts’ to talk about all things Veteran. Recently Tom was at the County Veterans Service Officers statewide conference to tape the show. And, as the entrepreneur that he is, he encourages those who don’t have the show aired in their area to contact local stations to see if they would like to do so. There is no cost to air the show and, yes, they can insert local advertising to compensate for the ‘air time.’ Check with your CVSO or local station to determine interest and visit the show's website. Also – be sure to listen to a special live recording of Minnesota Military Radio on Veterans Day live from the State ceremony in Inver Grove Heights on Twin Cities News/Talk AM 1130.
Another exciting announcement; MDVA has been selected as recipient of the 2013 Board of Governor’s Emmy Award. This award was submitted in partnership with the Minnesota National Guard and Twin Cities Public Television for a body of work that spans more than six years. For MDVA this included the documentary programs “Home & Hope” and “Home for Heroes.” MDVA, along with the Minnesota National Guard and TPT, will be recognized with the "Governor's Award for Community and Broadcast Partnership” at the Midwest Emmy awards gala in late September.
August has arrived... the days are getting shorter, nights somewhat cooler and the kids are starting to think about returning to school. All of this gives meaning to the phrase “the Circle of Life!”
For us at the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs it also means starting to get ready for the next legislative session. Last year’s session helped the Department reposition itself in order to better serve Minnesota’s Veterans and their families, whether that be through our staff or the County Veterans Service Office (CVSO) grants or supporting our Veterans Service Organizations (VSO’s).
With the legislative session over and summer weather arriving, the activities in the office have been much quieter . . . still busy . . . but quieter!!
The end of the budget year of the biennium is complete and has kept us focused . . . not only on what was completed but also in preparation for the bonding cycle. Key activities include working with State and Federal leadership on the future of our Veterans Homes in Minnesota as well as positioning the Department for the future in the areas of technology, personnel, and, most importantly, better ways to meet the needs of Minnesota Veterans.
This month I will focus on the “Thank You’s” that are past due to our Veteran Leadership across the great state of Minnesota!
First…to all those who worked hard to insure that Memorial Day was focused on its true purpose… honoring our fallen heroes. The ceremonies, media interactions, and expressions of our caring and honor were focused on the day’s true meaning. Thank you for your hard work and detailed planning.
Second…I want to thank our Commanders’ Task Force for their leadership this past legislative session. Collectively the Commanders forged a solid legislative agenda; monitored it consistently; and in the final hours worked both within and outside our agency to insure their goals were properly vetted, with the key goal of seeing the completion of the Minneapolis Veterans Home properly funded.