Dayton administration wants to expand military education aid
ST. PAUL -- Older Minnesota veterans need education help, like those just returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, so the Dayton administration proposes expanding a program to include them, too.
Gov. Mark Dayton and Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Shellito on Thursday announced plans to ask the Legislature next year to increase the Minnesota GI Bill's reach to provide benefits to all Minnesota veterans. The program now spends $1.5 million of its $6 million two-year budget, so Shellito said money should not be a problem.
The expansion is needed, the two said, because many older veterans need to be retrained to keep jobs.
The announcement was one of several pre-Veterans' Day developments on Thursday.
Dayton and Shellito also said they will seek funding to maintain honor guard burials for veterans. The program ran out of money after the Dayton administration forgot to ask for funds earlier this year.
The Minnesota National Guard announced it is making it easier for Minnesotans to help service members and their families receive "care packages" this holiday season.
Also, the state Revenue Department reminded military personnel that they could receive thousands of dollars in tax benefits.
The Minnesota veteran unemployment rate is estimated at anywhere between 8.5 percent and 16 percent, Dayton said, showing there is a need for training.
Shellito said his generation of Vietnam-era veterans, in particular, has "issues as we deal with this economy." He said that expanding the GI bill beyond the currently served post-Sept. 11, 2001, veterans will provide a way for older men and women to succeed in the workplace.
The former head of the Minnesota National Guard and one-time Alexandria Technical and Community College president said veterans his age could learn about new technology, such as operating Microsoft Office.
"Many of the people in my age group are not as technically savvy," he said, adding that he has needed to ask grandchildren how to operate a remote control.
A key Democratic-Farmer-Laborite legislator added his support to expanding the GI Bill.
"An expansion of Minnesota's GI Bill to all veterans would help ensure that all veterans have the job skill and education they need to succeed in today's economy," Rep. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, said.
Shellito said Minnesota is home of 380,000 veterans.
Under the Dayton plan, a veteran could receive $1,000 per semester and up to $10,000 in a lifetime for education. But the program only kicks in after federal and other veteran-education programs are used.
Funding for the funeral honor guard program dried up when money was left out of an appropriation bill earlier this year, although Shellito took it out of other funds to keep the program going.
On Thursday, he and Dayton said they would seek to keep funding going.
The program would pay $50 per burial, which Shellito said would cover the cost of bullets used during salutes as well as other small expenses for the 10,000 veterans' burials each year.
Also, the National Guard reported its Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program has updated its Web site (www.beyondtheyellowribbon.org) to include a button showing ways Minnesotans can help veterans and their families.
For instance, it suggests that a soldier's sidewalk could be shoveled this winter. It also shows how "care packages" can be sent to troops overseas.
"The 'Make a Difference' button connects individuals to their local Family Assistance Centers, geographically dispersed throughout the state, to answer those questions at the local level," said Army 2nd Lt. Melanie K. Nelson.
"Business, organizations and volunteer networks that want to give their time or offer discounts on products and services are encouraged to register with the Military Family Care Initiative website," Nelson added.
More than 3,000 Minnesota National Guard members are overseas, with more in military reserve and active-duty units.
Those who are on active duty can take advantage of tax breaks, Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans said.
Credits such as one to reduce taxes for troops in a combat zone can save money.
More than 24,000 Minnesota service members have received $11.9 million in tax breaks from the program.
Military personnel also are eligible for several other tax breaks.
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.