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Minnesota keeps taking care of its veterans

Mike Goggin, R-Red Wing, can be reached at sen.mike.goggin@senate.mn or 651-296-4264.

With the recent observance of Veterans Day, I thought it would be a good time to share some of the legislation we worked on that cares for Minnesota's veterans.

There are more than 330,000 veterans in Minnesota. Despite making up a relatively small percentage of our population, it is exceedingly likely that you have a close friend or family member who is a veteran. You may even be one yourself. I have several close relatives who served: my uncles served in Vietnam, my father and my father-in-law both served in Korea, and my nephew currently serves in the Air Force. These close relationships are why veterans' issues are so important to so many people; it is easy to put a name and a face to each issue.

It's also one big reason that the Legislature has placed such an emphasis on veterans over the last two years.

Minnesota has made veterans housing a priority for more than 130 years. Last session we authorized $32 million for the construction of three new veterans homes — one in Preston, one in Montevideo, and one in Bemidji. The homes will support about 200 beds for Minnesota veterans, and while there is still a federal application to be completed, getting these facilities authorized at the state level was a significant victory.

There are 64 veterans Readiness Centers throughout the state, responsible for preparing and training Minnesota's 11,000 National Guard soldiers to respond to any number of complex challenges. Unfortunately, a number of these facilities are in poor condition. We invested more than $12 million to make urgent upgrades and bring these facilities into the 21st century.

Mental health and jobs

I authored legislation that invested in the incredibly successful Helmets to Hardhats program. This program connects military members with quality career training and employment opportunities in the trades. Getting this funding passed was one of my proudest personal achievements during my first two years in the Senate. In addition to Helmets to Hardhats, we expanded options for Minnesota veterans to use their GI Bill for apprenticeship and on-the-job training.

The Legislature also renewed the state's commitment to mental health treatment. Too many Minnesotans, and veterans in particular, facing mental health crises have urgent needs that weren't being met. Often they were held in jails and prisons, where they couldn't receive proper treatment. We funded the construction of mental health crisis centers across the state to allow for faster, better responses during mental health emergencies.

For veterans, there are few phrases that provoke anger quite like "stolen valor." This is when people falsely claim military awards, stories, or experiences that never happened. Some even use these stories to reap financial rewards they don't deserve. We strengthened criminal penalties against anyone who impersonates a veteran in order to receive financial gain.

We appropriated $700,000 to Veterans Journey Home. All too often, veterans return home and have difficulty finding affordable housing. Veterans Journey Home's mission is to help low-income and middle-income veterans find single family housing.

We allocated $500,000 to the Veterans Defense Project. This organization helps veterans navigate the court system and defends them from legal issues.

Taking care of our veterans will always be a never-ending mission. New challenges arise, new veterans return home, and the economic landscape changes. Our job is to anticipate new concerns and make sure we address existing issues as fast as possible. The brave men and women who served their country deserve nothing less.

During this holiday season please keep our veterans, our current military servicemen and women, and their families in your prayers.

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