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Groups tout vets homes

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota is not prepared to care for many of its 400,000 military veterans who will need physical and mental health assistance in the coming decades, lawmakers were told.

Communities trying to land a state veterans home or care facility tried to sell their plans to a Minnesota Senate veterans committee Tuesday, promoting their locations and facilities and the specialized medical treatments they could provide.

Lawmakers soon will receive a Department of Veterans Affairs study that is expected to include veterans' demographic estimates and population statistics looking out to 2030.

It may include recommendations for future veterans homes.

Minnesota has five veterans homes. They are in Fergus Falls, Silver Bay, Hastings, Luverne and Minneapolis. Officials say that leaves entire regions of the state without a facility offering comprehensive medical care or living options.

Proponents of a veterans mental health facility in west central Minnesota's Kandiyohi County said there are 32,500 veterans living within 50 miles of their proposed Willmar site.

Some of those veterans currently must travel up to 120 miles to the nearest veterans home, said Ron Andreen, an Army veteran and chairman of Kandiyohi County's Veterans Home Advisory Board.

In Montevideo, southwest of Willmar, officials say they are ready to build a veterans facility. Montevideo has completed a site pre-design and is raising local funds to help finance a facility.

"Frankly, we probably need four or five (veterans) homes," Montevideo City Administrator Steve Jones said of Minnesota. "This is a growing need."

Sen. Jim Vickerman, who leads the Senate veterans' committee, said not all of the five proposals discussed Tuesday -- Bemidji, Montevideo, Willmar, Owatonna and Brainerd -- will get state funding. The Tracy Democrat said there may only be funding for one new home.

"If we're only going to do one, it's going to be a tough decision," said Sen. Steve Dille, a Dassel Republican and veterans committee member.

None of the projects expects to receive state funds this year, but supporters are working in advance of the 2010 legislative session, when lawmakers would traditionally pass a large public works spending package.

It is important to introduce a proposal early because that makes it more likely the Legislature's public works committees will visit the site, said Sen. Gary Kubly, who is pushing the Montevideo plan.

A project that lawmakers are familiar with is more likely to receive funding, said Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls.

"You have to look quite a ways down the road for bonding proposals," Kubly said.

Steve Renquist, economic development director for Kandiyohi County and the city of Willmar, said the Kandiyohi County proposal has been on the table for four years. Unlike other veterans home proposals, Renquist said his county already has completed a pre-design phase and identified a site.

Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, said Kandiyohi County has requested $7.9 million in state-borrowed funds, but may not even need the state aid.