Gov. Mark Dayton is expanding the state’s personal time-off policy for state employees in an effort to allow one state worker in particular — Shelley Koski — to participate in Red Cross programs involving veterans and their families in crisis.
Koski is one of a handful of certified mental health counselors in the country qualified to perform the counseling through the American Red Cross.
But Koski, a clinical therapist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections prison at Moose Lake, was barred from using a state law that allows state workers to use paid time off for Red Cross disaster relief to perform the counseling.
Corrections Department officials said helping veterans in crisis, while a noble effort, did not qualify as disaster relief.
The state would not budge after several negotiations, even after Koski’s union, the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, offered to draw up a guarantee that the provision would apply only to a person with Koski’s specific skills.
Dayton’s executive order, issued Tuesday, comes four days after Koski’s story was reported in the Star Tribune.
“Recognizing that the need for mental health counselors for military veterans is significant both in Minnesota and throughout the United States and that the American Red Cross is an internationally recognized disaster relief organization, the Governor’s Executive Order directs Minnesota Management and Budget to recognize the training of mental health counselors for military veterans, through the American Red Cross, as an appropriate use of leave time for state employees,” Dayton’s office said in a release.
“I’m just so happy,” a tearful Koski said Tuesday after getting the news. Before Dayton’s order, Koski had been planning on using personal time to continue the counseling, including a session scheduled for this week.
“I can’t believe there was pushback against this in the first place, but I would have continued to do it on my own time no matter what,” she said. “What we are doing with veterans and their families is important and this is recognition of that.”
The 1994 state law allows state employees to take up to 15 days a year with pay to provide Red Cross disaster services.
Koski has provided her services after hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, among other natural disasters, and has recently provided counseling workshops to veterans, military members and their families.
Koski has been a certified disaster volunteer with the Red Cross for more than a decade and has been promoted to disaster mental health manager.
She is designated to give specialized workshops to military members and their families, one of fewer than 100 mental-health professionals in the U.S. with that distinction.