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On Veterans Day, Minnesota policymakers call for broader access to vet counseling centers

Minnesota has three vet centers that focus on mental health and social connections, fewer than its neighbor North Dakota.

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Commissioner Larry Herke of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs tells those gathered Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, at the groundbreaking for the new veterans home in Montevideo that recruiting will begin in about one year for the 140 part- and full-time jobs the home will create. Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune
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ST. PAUL — On Thursday, Nov. 11, Gov. Tim Walz, Minnesota Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Herke, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and Reps. Angie Craig and Dean Phillips met at the St. Paul Veterans Center to mark the Veterans Day holiday and draw attention to efforts to boost access to mental health resources for vets.

The policymakers emphasized the value of vet centers around the state and said they would work to grow the number of locations available for veterans to get counseling, social and mental health services. Three vet centers in Anoka, Duluth and St. Paul serve more than 300,000 Minnesota veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs also offers health care through a broader set of VA hospitals and clinics around the state.

Herke said Minnesota could use additional centers in the southern, northern and western parts of the state to meet the current demand.

"I can say that I'm a veteran and I've used a vets center for the transition period and it was key to my success to transition back into society," Herke said. "Veterans feel very at home at vets centers, it's a very different atmosphere than a VA hospital or a clinic."

Craig, a Democrat representing the state's 2nd Congressional District, said she traveled more than an hour to reach the St. Paul Vet's Center. And for many in southern Minnesota, that distance creates a hurdle to accessing services, she said.

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  • Walz says 13 counties mark the end of veteran homelessness in central Minnesota The 13 counties are the latest care region to meet the designation. Hennepin, Ramsey and St. Louis County are still working to end veteran homelessness in Minnesota.

  • Minnesota to open an alternative care site in Brainerd Gov. Tim Walz said the care center would be able to take 34 patients at a time to relieve the burden on central and northern Minnesota's hospitals.

  • Minnesota officials laud Veterans Restorative Justice Act as an 'opportunity to have another path'

Additional work needs to be done to determine where new centers could be placed around the state and what has prevented the construction of additional centers, Phillips said. He also noted that Minnesota has fewer vet centers than its neighbor North Dakota, despite Minnesota's larger population of veterans.
“We are a nation that always finds the resources to send our young men and women to war and somehow we can’t find the resources to take care of them when they come home,” Phillips said. Phillips is a Democrat who represents Minnesota's 3rd Congressional District. “At the very least, as Minnesotans and as Americans we must build a bridge for veterans who served our country to ensure our freedoms."

Help is available

If you are a Minnesota veteran in crisis, please call 1 (800) 273-8255, text 83825 or find help at veteranscrisisline.net .

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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