In response to Rep. Al Juhnke's letter concerning a proposed veterans care facility in Willmar, I need to clarify his facts. In an effort to explain why his proposal was not included in the final Agriculture and Veteran's Affairs bill, he is attempting to lay his failures at the feet of the Minnesota Senate and me by association.
Juhnke is very aware there are two legislatively authorized studies under way to assess the long-term care needs of Minnesota's veterans. The metro-area study is complete and the Greater Minnesota study will be finished later this summer. He also knows these studies will become the basis for any decisions made about the type, placement, and funding of any new veterans' care facilities.
As I attempted to advance Juhnke's proposal, it became immediately clear that the Minnesota and U.S. Veterans Administrations had major concerns with the concept and direction of the proposed facility. One of the major stumbling blocks was the aspect of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis, treatment and care.
In a meeting with Gil Acevedo, Minnesota Deputy Commissioner of Veterans Health Care, he expressed the department's concerns and indicated to me a high level of frustration that Juhnke was not listening to the department. This frustration was also expressed to me by the governor's administrative staff.
Acevedo followed up on our conversation with an extensive e-mail outlining the department's concerns, which I immediately forwarded to Juhnke and (Kandiyohi County/City of Willmar) Economic Development Director Steve Renquist. I also expressed my concern that if their proposal did not fit the VA's specific criteria it was highly unlikely to receive VA support and ultimately the requested funding.
Unfortunately, Juhnke has put the "cart before the horse" in what is proving to be an unsuccessful attempt to force his will on the Minnesota and U.S. Veterans Administrations. Pointing his finger of blame at the Minnesota Senate is counterproductive and harms important relationships that will be needed as we move forward.
As a veteran, and member of the Minnesota Senate Agriculture and Veterans Affairs Committee, I am dedicated to seeing that our soldiers and veterans receive the best and most accessible care we can provide. I am also committed to support a veterans' facility in our community that meets our veterans' needs and is supported by the Veterans Administrations.