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Tribune Editorial: No time to second guess veterans home funding

Tribune file photo/ Supporters of the Montevideo Veterans Home waited in a cold November rain to show their support to members of the senate capital investment committee in 2015.

State Sen. Jerry Newton, DFL-Coon Rapids, questions the $32 million state allocation towards the construction of veterans homes in Montevideo, Preston and Bemidji in a recent Star Tribune op-ed piece. He asks Governor-elect Tim Walz to create a committee to determine if the homes are needed.

Much of his underlying argument is metro-centric. He points out that Hennepin County is home to 59,000 veterans with a facility to house 350 veterans, while Chippewa County is home to 857 veterans (with no such facility).

He goes on to state that the "catchment" area of the proposed Montevideo, Preston and Bemidji areas are each 10 times smaller than the Minneapolis area.

OK, we're small in comparison to the metropolitan area, but the need that exists for veterans homes in rural areas is every bit as big. That need was documented for the Legislature during the campaign to win support for them. The Montevideo Veterans Home committee that led that effort made their case with facts, and they deserve repeating.

Consider:

If we say the Montevideo "catchment" area is within a 60-minute driving distance, there are more than 12,000 veterans and 12 National Guard or Reserve units located in it. If that is expanded to a 90-minute driving distance, the total number of veterans increases to 62,474, according to the information presented to the Legislature.

Montevideo already serves many more veterans than the 857 Newton cited as living in Chippewa County. There are 2,440 patients assigned to the Veterans Affairs medical clinic known as the Montevideo Community-Based Outpatient Clinic. The total number of unique patients served by it is 3,168, according to information collected in 2017 by the local committee.

Sen. Newton states in his op-ed that our veteran population over age 65 totals 177,000, and will decline by half in the next 20 years. Yet information from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that the number of veterans in Minnesota from 2010-2040 will be 386,598. The majority, 223,674, are over the age of 60, according to the numbers put together by the Montevideo Veterans Home committee.

As of 2017, when the information was compiled by the Montevideo Veterans Home committee, there was a waiting list of over 1,500 individuals for the 860 veteran homes beds available in the state.

Newton tries to cast doubt on the Montevideo, Preston and Bemidji projects by suggesting that they will not receive federal funding. Members of the committee supporting these homes visited with state officials from the Department of Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Minnesota Management and Budget. The message they heard is quite different: Officials in these state agencies are very confident the Montevideo, Preston and Bemidji projects will get funded on the federal level. U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson has also made it very clear that he will work on behalf of federal funding.

Montevideo has campaigned for over 11 years for the funding for a veterans home. During this time, the state played a major role in building Target Field for the Twins and US Bank Stadium for the Vikings. This is not the time to second-guess a $32 million allocation on behalf of the state's veterans.

It is a good time to point out that no matter where a veteran lives in Minnesota, he or she would be eligible for care in the proposed homes in Montevideo, Preston or Bemidji. Veterans who select any of these locations can be certain of receiving care in welcoming communities. They can expect the best in care from professional staff and lots of support from community volunteers and other veterans who make these rural communities their homes.

We'd be remiss not to point out how much community support exists for Montevideo Veterans Home project. For 11 years, hundreds of supporters made trips to St. Paul. The City of Montevideo, Chippewa and its neighbor counties pledged nearly $5 million towards the project. Just a few weeks ago, the Steven J. Williams Family Trust donated $2.8 million. Hard to understand why there could be any question at this point about locating a veterans home in Montevideo.

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