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A little-seen legislative report on veterans housing makes some startlingly bold suggestions.
Released in December, it was the product of a select committee from the Minnesota House. House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, formed the committee after seeing the growing need to get a handle on the rising costs of veteran housing and homelessness amid the realities of a declining veteran population.
The vet population is predicted to fall nationally from just over 22 million in 2010 to near 15 million in 2040. Just under 6 percent of the 385,000 veterans in Minnesota are under 34 years old.
The report paints a stark picture of how black and American Indian vets fare in the state: 37 percent of homeless vets are people of color and there are only 23 black residents, two Hispanic residents, and seven American Indian residents among the approximately 825 residents of the five state-operated veterans homes.
It also makes some controversial suggestions about giving priority to Purple Heart recipients and former prisoners of war to gain admission to veterans homes, putting spouses and widows down on the pecking order. Right now admission is first-come, first-served.
A big part of the report is a recommendation that the state pursue projects that allow veterans to “age in place” in local communities and to partner with local agencies to provide various kinds of housing options.
This promotes keeping vets in their communities. More opportunities for in-home care could greatly reduce the need for larger, more costly institutions, the report said.
Recognizing that some of the state vets homes have had a history of dysfunction, the report also suggests the vets homes should improve the battered relationships and retention rates of employees, particularly among nursing staff. It recommends creating an ombudsman for vet homes staff to work through disputes.