Column: Veterans to receive more benefitsAmong the accomplishments in the 2013 Legislative Session was our work for Minnesota veterans.
By: Erik Simonson, For the Budgeteer News
Among the accomplishments in the 2013 Legislative Session was our work for Minnesota veterans.
Our signature achievement was an expansion of the Minnesota GI Bill to give more vets access to the financial aid resources they need to pursue higher education. For many of our veterans, that could mean up to $10,000 to help pay for college or other post-secondary studies.
Previously, only veterans who served after Sept. 11, 2001, were eligible for this benefit. Under the new law, any veteran under the age of 62 who has served honorably in any branch of the armed forces during any time period may be eligible for Minnesota GI Bill benefits.
Under the new law, benefit amounts from the enhanced Minnesota GI Bill remain the same. A full-time student may receive up to $1,000 per semester or term of enrollment, $3,000 per fiscal year, and $10,000 in a lifetime (up to age 62). Part-time students may receive $500 per semester or term of enrollment, and a minimum award of $50 per term.
Apart from the Minnesota GI Bill expansion, previous eligibility requirements remain the same. Those eligibility requirements are as follows:
Veterans must be Minnesota residents attending any approved public or private university, college, or career school in Minnesota as undergraduate or graduate students.
Military members who do not meet the state veteran statute requirements must have served honorably for a total of five or more years (cumulatively) as a member of the National Guard or Reserve component. Any part of their service must have occurred on or after Sept. 11, 2001.
Surviving spouses and children of veterans who died in military service or are totally or permanently disabled as a direct result of military service may also be eligible.
The Federal GI Bill and the Minnesota GI Bill are different. The Federal GI Bill has many complex chapters for individuals who enlisted in the military. Some benefits require active duty members to pay, while other benefits are earned by cumulative or consecutive active duty periods of service.
The Minnesota GI Bill was established in 2007 to provide postsecondary educational assistance to eligible Minnesota veterans who served on or after Sept. 11, 2001. Funds from this program are tied to financial aid and are paid directly to the higher education institution.
Minnesota veterans can find more information about both programs, and learn how to apply for GI Bill benefits, at www.MinnesotaVeteran.org.
The expansion of the Minnesota GI Bill is just one of the things we did for our veterans. I want to share with you just a few of the measures passed by the 2013 Legislature — with my support — and signed into law by Governor Dayton.
Minneapolis Veterans Home: $18.9 million was contained in the bonding bill for the state’s portion of continuing capital improvements for phase 3 of the Building 17 project.
Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans: Increased funding to Council by $500,000 to provide assistance to veterans and their families who are homeless or in danger of homelessness, including housing, utilities, employment, and legal assistance.
Honor Guards: $400,000 is allocated to pay for honor guards at the funerals of veterans. The Commissioner of Veterans Affairs is authorized to pay up to $50 to a local unit of a congressionally chartered veterans’ organization as compensation for providing honor guards.
Gold Star Program: Established ongoing funding for the Gold Star program. The Gold Star Program supports the families of those service members who lost their lives in combat as they heal from their loss. This made up for funding cuts by the federal government.
Veterans’ service organizations: $706,000 in funding for congressionally chartered veterans’ service organizations: Disabled American Veterans, Military Order of the Purple Heart, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America, AMVETS, and Paralyzed Veterans of America.
Local government veterans preference: Local governments authorized to implement a veterans preference program in the awarding of contracts to designated veteran-owned small businesses.
And we also passed legislation allowing resident veterans with 100 percent service-connected permanent disability to apply for free permanent cards that will give them free small-game and either-sex deer hunting licenses each year. Disabled veterans will no longer have to bring their paperwork to the license agent every year. Obtaining the free permanent card is optional. Veterans may still use their paperwork to obtain the free licenses.
We owe our veterans a debt that cannot be repaid. But this is a good start.
Erik Simonson is a Minnesota state representative from Duluth.