Prioritizing veterans home admissions gets cold reception

There are just more than 1,000 people waiting to gain admission to a state-run veterans home. A plan to establish a priority ladder for entrance was met with much resistance Monday.

Rep. Jerry Newton (DFL-Coon Rapids) sponsors HF2557 that would alter a quintet of laws regarding veterans homes and other programs. The recommendations came from the Select Committee on Veterans Housing, which met during the 2013-14 interim.

Heard by the House State Government Finance and Veterans Affairs Committee, the bill was held over for possible omnibus bill inclusion. A companion, SF2406, sponsored by Sen. Tom Saxhaug (DFL-Grand Rapids), awaits action by the Senate State and Local Government Committee.

House State Government Finance and Veterans Affairs Committee

In part, the bill would mandate that county veterans service officers, when meeting with veterans, “make them aware of MNsure, long-term care, dental insurance, those types of things.” Newton emphasized that officers not act as “navigators or to help fill out applications,” rather just provide an informational brochure of all insurance options.

“Some people don’t have private health insurance and we have to encourage them to get insurance. This is federal law,” Newton said. “It just so happens that MNsure is the Minnesota version of the Affordable Care Act.”

However, it was another aspect of the proposal that got representatives of veterans groups and a trio of residents to express their displeasure.

The bill would establish the following priority system for admission into state-run veterans homes:

  • Congressional Medal of Honor or Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of foreign wars and veterans with at least a 70 percent service-connected disability;
  • all other veterans;
  • spouses of veterans who are over the age of 65; and
  • Gold Star parents of veterans who have lost their lives in service.

Priority in the first three groups would be given to veterans and their spouses with a documented two-year residency in Minnesota immediately prior to admission, or to those who lived in Minnesota at the time of their or their spouse’s admission to the armed forces.

“Currently non-veterans spouses have the same eligibility as veterans and they get the same priority in being assigned to the homes,” said Newton. “We have a great number of veterans who are on the waiting list and the select committee felt that veterans should be served first prior to non-veteran spouses.”

Newton said the select committee looked at what is being done in other states before proffering this preference proposal.

“We found that admission criteria differs greatly. Some homes only permit veterans who have served in combat; some homes only permit veterans who have received a Purple Heart or are 70 percent disabled. In looking at this, the select committee felt that those veterans who have suffered the most as a result of their military service, whether they were wounded in combat or injured as a result of their service, that they should have a priority going into the veterans home.”

Nancy Arieta of Eden Prairie took care of her husband for 10 years before he got into a veterans home. “(The bill) is so discriminating that it’s like a slap in the face.”

Mike Ash, state commander for the American Legion of Minnesota, said the bill would make “second-class citizens out of the average veteran. … Every veteran served his or her country. They should all have access on equal footing.”

Rep. Joe McDonald (R-Delano) expressed concern about splitting up families. “Can you imagine a scenario where a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient is qualified and gets to go into a veterans home but his wife is not and is sometimes forced to go into a completely different community? … That is just plain wrong.”

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    Mike Cook's picture
    Mike Cook

    Mike Cook writes for Session Daily, a publication of the Minnesota House of Representatives.