Of 917 veterans on waiting lists in Minnesota in 2015 for placement in a veterans home, 717 were waiting at the Minneapolis home. We must replace the 150 beds lost there during much-needed upgrades to the facility.
In 1978, there were 500 beds available to veterans at Minneapolis. Upgrades, including single-occupancy rooms and private baths, have reduced the number of beds to 300 skilled-care beds and 50 domiciliary. Replacing the lost beds with skilled-care beds would provide much-needed beds where they serve the greatest number of veterans.
Veterans deserve access to skilled-care nursing when they need it, not a year from now. Care delayed is care denied. Even with the replacement of 150 beds, veterans served by the Minneapolis home would have the fewest beds relative to population in Minnesota. Our local veterans would have only 90 of the 101 beds allotted to each of Minnesota’s eight congressional districts.
The Minneapolis home is the only veterans home serving the Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Congressional Districts. The other congressional districts have their own veterans homes.
The shortage of skilled-care beds for veterans is not universal across the state — it is centered in the Second through Sixth Districts. Proposals for new facilities in Bemidji, Montevideo and Spring Valley would hurt veterans because they would in effect take the beds from veterans in the districts with the least access to skilled-care beds.
Veterans in the Second through Sixth Districts have access to only 60 beds per district instead of the 101 beds they are allotted.
The proposal for new facilities in Bemidji and Montevideo would in effect take beds from veterans in Mankato, Faribault, Red Wing, Buffalo, Shakopee, Apple Valley, Anoka, Woodbury, Elk River and Chisago Lakes and transfer them hundreds of miles away to serve the Seventh Congressional District.
But the Seventh District already has 106 skilled-care beds, or five beds more than allotted. The proposal for Bemidji and Montevideo would provide the Seventh with three veterans homes and 246 skilled-care beds, or four times the beds per district available to veterans in the Second through Sixth Districts.
A veteran in Woodbury should not have to drive 250 miles to get care in Bemidji. A Mankato veteran was on the Minneapolis waiting list for 13 months only to pass away without ever getting care. This has to stop.
The number of veterans age 65 and older is declining rapidly: There were 182,000 in Minnesota in 2015. There will be 122,000 in 2030 and only 65,000 in 2045. Some 82 percent of Minnesota’s population growth is in the seven-county metro area. Minnesota’s greatest diversity resides there.
The Minneapolis Veterans Home serves 245,000 veterans with only 300 skilled-care beds. The three other veterans homes serve 90,000 veterans with 274 skilled-care beds. Veterans in the Second through Sixth Congressional Districts deserve their fair share of skilled-care beds.
The Minneapolis Veterans Home receives a higher VA priority rating than any other proposal and has a vacant facility that could be upgraded immediately if the state provided funding.
Tom Dimond lives in St. Paul.