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Honoring veterans requires yearlong attention to their needs

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One day isn’t nearly enough. We need to watch out for veterans just as they watched out for us, and that must be a 365-day-a-year job.

Today is Veterans Day – the one day of the year that we set aside to honor those men and women who put their lives on the line in the name of our country. It seems to be the very least we can do to show our gratitude for the incredible commitment and sacrifice these vets – and their families – have made.

Rep. Jerry Newton

From beaches of Normandy to the mountains of the Khyber Pass, they have faced adversity and conditions that we frankly cannot comprehend. And when they return to our shores, many struggle with wounds – both visible and invisible.

So, no, one day isn’t nearly enough. We need to watch out for them just as they watched out for us, and that must be a 365-day-a-year job.

This year, the Legislature – in a bipartisan manner – did just that.

Together we expanded the eligibility of Minnesota GI Bill benefits. This will give even more vets access to financial aid for higher education. We allocated $18.9 million for improvements to the Minneapolis Veterans Home. We increased funding for Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, which provides aid to veterans who are homeless or in danger of losing their homes. We provided $400,000 for honor guards at the funerals of veterans and established ongoing funding for the Gold Star program.

But that just scratches the surface of the needs of our veterans.

Affordable housing, jobs, health care …

In Minnesota, it is estimated that 9 percent of our homeless population are veterans. Affordable housing is a pipe dream for many. An unacceptable number of them struggle with untreated mental illness and chemical dependency. Jobs for returning vets are scarce, as they are for all unemployed Minnesotans. There’s no guarantee to quality health care.

That is simply unacceptable. It’s why House Speaker Paul Thissen created the Select Committee on Veterans Housing.

The committee’s mission is to create and recommend policies that will update our veterans’ support in Minnesota over the long term. That means addressing the needs of veterans who require long-term care or who are homeless.

Touring, taking testimony

I serve as the chairman of that committee. My colleagues and I have been traveling the state during the interim, touring existing veterans’ homes and taking testimony from Minnesotans.

By studying the unique issues our veterans face, including long-term and nursing home care needs and homelessness, we are fulfilling the unwritten but understood covenant that we made with our men and women in uniform – that when they completed their service, we would help take care of them and their families.

The 2013 legislative session was a start; as a veteran myself, I pledge we will continue the work in 2014 as well.

DFLer Rep. Jerry Newton, of Coon Rapids, represents District 37A in the Minnesota House and is the chairman of the Select Committee on Veterans Housing.

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