Veterans’ concerns getting overdue hearing from state Legislature

A couple of years ago, Little Falls threw its hat in the ring to build a new state retirement home here for military veterans. Because of the proximity of Camp Ripley, this area has a greater concentration of retired veterans than any area of the state not already served by a veterans home.

That project has been put in limbo by the Legislature, which has had more pressing matters before it, like funding schools, courts and roads and closing a massive budget shortfall.

Now, however, there seems to be a slightly renewed interest in the Legislature to do something for our military retirees. Last week, Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, had a hearing on his bill to eliminate state taxes on military retirement pay.

While Dettmer’s bill had a cool reception, it is to the majority DFL Party’s credit that it even gave the bill a hearing. The DFL has long had an awkward relationship with the military, going back to its strong anti-war stance during the Vietnam War. Since the first Gulf War, that has changed, and the Democrats now at least give lip service to the sacrifices of our military. However, it also remains true that the DFL is still home to the “peace at any price” crowd. Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, and a 40-year legislative veteran who remembers first-hand the Vietnam years, argued last week that any pensioner group could make the same argument.

The response to that point is that it would be a plus if this state could attract more military retirees. Minnesota currently ranks only 33rd among the states in terms of veterans with 20-plus years of military service who draw retirement pay.

Another effort, that may have a better chance of passage because it has bipartisan authors, Reps. Connie Bernardy, DFL-Fridley, and Anna Wills, R-Apple Valley, would provide nonrefundable tax credits to businesses for hiring veterans, $3,000 for hiring a disabled veteran and $1,500 for hiring an unemployed veteran. The state jobless rate for veterans is almost double its overall unemployment rate, and that’s a disgrace. The tax credit would be largely paid for by getting the vets off unemployment benefits.

With the economy appearing to improve, and with the Legislature trying to raise taxes, one would hope that our expanding state government could at least do something for the veterans to whom we owe so much.