The Free Press, Mankato, MN


December 27, 2013

Our View: Scrutinize vets housing funding

Why it matters: Determining how best to use state bonding money on veterans housing will serve taxpayers

Discussions on changes to veterans’ housing funding in Minnesota between administrators and an oversight committee have created a healthy tension that should be a regular part of public funding decisions for such projects.

The DFL-House leadership convened a select committee last year to look into how an earlier approved $19 million in state bonding money might be used in the expansion of the Minnesota Veterans Home in Minneapolis. The state money would be matched by up to $35 million in federal money.

The total $54 million was to go toward a 100-bed expansion of the Minneapolis facility. But key legislators like Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, and chair of the House Capital Investment Committee, took notice of the price per bed – about $500,000, a figure she noted seemed exorbitant, according to a report by Politics in Minnesota.

Hausman joked the money could be used to buy each of those 100 veterans a very nice house, according to the report.

The approval came at a time when there were also outstanding requests for new veterans’ facilities in Bemidji, Montevideo, Willmar and Brainerd. House leadership thus created the select committee to study the issue of how to better manage veterans housing with the funding available.

The committee, headed by former Army sergeant major Rep. Jerry Newton of Coon Rapids, recently released a report that suggested a more decentralized approach to veterans housing. Newton spent about two decades in the Army and has experience dealing with veterans groups and veterans issues.

The committee’s report suggests changing from a large centralized system with hundreds of veterans under one roof to one of community-based smaller homes and facilities. It points to changing the way veterans qualify for housing from a first-come, first-served basis to one that puts seriously injured combat veterans first.

Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs Commissioner Larry Shellito took issue with the committee’s report, saying it was “steeped in innuendo, short on substance … and long on assumptions,” according to the PIM report.

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