A large population of veterans and their families live in 16 northern Minnesota counties and on four American Indian reservations (“Vets push for homes funding,” April 19). These veterans and their families remain underserved or unserved, by virtue of being two, three and four hours distant from state veterans homes in Fergus Falls, Minneapolis, Hastings, Luverne and Silver Bay.

Fact: In the northern Minnesota catchment area of Beltrami County/Bemidji, the site of a proposed veterans home, veterans of 16 contiguous counties and four Indian reservations can be served.

Fact: Among the 27,658 veterans identified in our catchment area, there is a higher percentage of older veterans than in the state and nation as a whole.

Fact: Sanford Health Systems-Bemidji has donated a tract of land upon which the facility can be built. Within the identified jurisdictions, the absolute longest drive time to this location would be two hours.

Fact: More than one-third of Minnesota American Indian veterans live in the northern part of the state.

Fact: Three American Indian reservations are less than a 90-minute drive from the proposed Beltrami County site, with some reservation residents being as close as 20 to 40 minutes away.

Fact: Of the northern Minnesota veterans who reported a service-connected disability rating, nearly half (49.5 percent) indicated the rating as 30 percent or higher.

Fact: Veterans in northern Minnesota have served our nation well during periods of conflict. Eighty percent of northern Minnesota veterans served during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and recent combat operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Similarly, 80 percent of Minnesota veterans served during times of conflict, while nationally this figure climbs to 84.9 percent. Veterans in northern Minnesota and the state as a whole are somewhat underrepresented in recent conflicts (Gulf War era) but are overrepresented as veterans of Vietnam, Korea and World War II. In short, northern Minnesota currently has an older veteran population that served predominantly during those earlier conflicts.

Fact: There are 33 instruments of support on record for the northern Minnesota veterans home initiative from catchment-area counties, American Indian tribal governances, cities and townships, area military-service organizations, the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, the Association of County Veterans Service Officers, and Sanford Health Systems.

A quote from a northern Minnesota veteran: “As a veteran living in Beltrami County, I see a great need for a veterans home in our area. This is due mostly to our location. We are in a dead zone, at least 2½ hours in any direction to a veterans facility. On top of this, we also have a high concentration of older veterans, mostly from the Vietnam era, who will need more services in the future. A veterans home for northern Minnesota will add much-needed care services to those veterans who are growing older in northern Minnesota.”

The northern Minnesota veterans home initiative maintains strong bipartisan support.

 

Joe Vene, of Bemidji, Minn., is a U.S. Army veteran, a member of Disabled American Veterans, a legislative liaison and a former member of the Beltrami County Board.