INVER GROVE HEIGHTS, Minn. — The official State of Minnesota Veterans Day celebration was back in person this year at the Veterans Memorial Community Center in Inver Grove Heights. The event began with a community breakfast followed by remarks by veterans and elected officials.
According to the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, there are currently more than 77,000 Minnesota veterans who served during times of peace and more than 226,000 who served in times of war. The MDVA reports that most Minnesota veterans are faring well but says many are facing a variety of issues.
"Especially critical are those that are transitioning from active service into the civilian world," MDVA commissioner Larry Herke said.
A U.S. Army veteran, Herke says there are ongoing initiatives in place to help. He encourages veterans of all ages and branches to visit the VA website for benefits and resources.
"There are services available that you've earned," he explained.
One issue is employment. MDVA says military training and experience often doesn't fit requirements civilian companies seek.
"We have apprenticeship programs which are very popular with our veterans," Herke said. "Many of them like to do things with their hands, hands-on, a lot of outdoor work … We also provide support for higher education … things like if they want a welding certificate or anything like that."
Another issue outlined by MDVA is housing. The department says some veterans have complex rental barriers such as previous rental history, health concerns, and "justice involvement." The commissioner says MDVA has placed more than 3,000 veterans into secure housing since 2015 and says new government funding and a partnership with nonprofit MACV has helped create new housing for those with the highest barriers.
"Our job is to try to find the right landlord to be able to put those veterans that are becoming homeless or at the homeless level and be able to help and assist them find a place to live," he said. "I was just at an open house. We had a veteran that came down the hall and he hugged me for at least two minutes. Just said that someone really cared for him and [that's] giving him a chance to be productive back in society because finding a home is the first step towards that path."
Herke says there has also been a push to help elderly veterans get into senior care facilities. The largest group of Minnesota's veterans are from the Vietnam era.
As for mental health, Herke says 30 to 35 percent of veterans are estimated to need help in their lifetime.
"Education of the people that are in society so they know what the signs are," he said. "Many times, the veterans themselves don't understand that they're in a crisis situation and if I can get the pizza man, if I can get the newspaper boy, if I can get the person at the convenience store to be able to identify these signs."
The commissioner also talked about physical health issues particularly respiratory issues and cancer with younger veterans because of burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. MDVA is responsible for administering and highlighting a number of health and disability-related programs, according to its website.
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