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Minnesota military veterans honored for their service

For the first time since before the COVID pandemic, veterans gathered for the official state ceremony in Inver Grove Heights.

INVER GROVE HEIGHTS, Minn. — Minnesota's top elected leaders Friday had the chance to thank veterans for their service in person again, for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state's official Veterans Day ceremony drew hundreds to the Veterans Memorial Community Center in Inver Grove Heights. As the 34th Infantry Division Red Bull Band cranked out rousing marches, a parade of politicians and military leaders joined veterans to mark the day World War I ended in 1918.

"This is the first time in two years we've been here in person, and I like it a lot better," Minn. Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Herke told the crowd, "This is a great event!"

Gov. Tim Walz thanked veterans service groups for their efforts to help pass a bipartisan veterans bill at the State Capitol this year. It provided for service bonuses for post-9/11 veterans and created funding for more housing and military cemeteries.

"There are days at the Capitol when people can't even agree on the fact it's Friday," Gov. Walz remarked. "The Commander’s Task Force forced the political process to rise above and meet the service to where the veterans were and do our work in the same spirit they do their work."

Veterans causes made strides on the federal level too this year, when President Biden signed the PACT Act.  One part of that bill created the presumption that veterans' exposure to toxic chemicals is the likely cause of health issues that lack any other explanation.

"It's the biggest expansion of health benefits for our veterans in generations," Sen. Tina Smith explained. 

"It said very simply if you served in wars and were exposed to burn pits, to toxic chemicals, to radiation, that you should then not have to come and prove that your illnesses are because of your service."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar began her work on the military burn pit issue years ago, inspired by the tragic story of Amie Muller, a member of the Minnesota Air National Guard and mother of four, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2017. Her husband Brian contacted Klobuchar because he was convinced Amie's illness was caused by the toxic smoke she was exposed to in Iraq.

Klobuchar's first bill established a national registry, so that people who served near burn pits could document that early in the process.

"With the burn pits, we’re going to be able to identify help, but what’s amazing about the story is a lot of it started in Minnesota. We had doctors for the VA who were willing to come forward and say it was a real thing."

Congressman Dean Phillips called for unity after a very divisive election season in Minnesota and around the nation.

"When I look at this beautiful room, I don't see Republicans. I don't see Democrats. I see Americans!"

Phillips, who lost his biological father Artie Pfeffer in Vietnam, acknowledged that veterans have all taken an oath to defend the country against foreign adversaries. He urged them to do their part in protecting the country from domestic threats as well, including those who are trying to challenge basic democratic principles.

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