By Deb Gau
MARSHALL - Making connections can be a powerful thing. It's especially important when it comes to helping area veterans access the services and benefits they've earned, said speakers at a public forum Wednesday.
Staff members from U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar's office, as well as representatives from state and local organizations supporting veterans, had a town hall-style meeting for local veterans and their families at the Marshall-Lyon County Library. The event was part of an outreach tour visiting more than 20 cities around Minnesota.
Part of the purpose behind Wednesday's meeting was to reach out to local veterans and hear their concerns, staff members said. But it was also a chance to review some of the services, programs, and people available to help veterans.
The meeting started with a short video message from Klobuchar, discussing the need to help ensure that Minnesota's veterans get the support they deserve. With veterans facing challenges like a backlog in VA claims, there's still a lot of work to do. However, Klobuchar said there have also been positive developments in recent years, ranging from expansions of veterans' health care to the inclusion of National Guard and reserve troops in more benefit programs. Klobuchar said she and Congressman Tim Walz also introduced a bill that helps restore benefits to veterans who many have been discharged with improper mental health diagnoses.
Speakers at the meeting emphasized county veterans services officers as an important resource for veterans. Every county in Minnesota has a VSO, they said - it's something that not all states can offer.
"Our office functions as a first point of contact for veterans and families in the community," said Lyon County VSO Terry Wing. It's a place veterans can turn to with questions, or to ask for assistance.
The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs also offers a wide range of information and resources for vets, said Luke Johnson, a VA representative based out of Redwood Falls. Johnson said an important part of his job is being able to help determine what benefits or services veterans may be eligible for.
"And if I can't help you specifically, I can find the person who can," Johnson said.
Speakers at the meeting said there are also many state and or regional groups veterans can turn to with questions on issues from health care to education and employment. The Minnesota Workforce Centers offer services to help veterans find and get jobs. Non-profit groups, like the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, can also help. MACV representative Luke Weinandt said the organization helps veterans and families who are facing homelessness or other crisis situations. MACV offers services helping with employment, legal issues and even rent and mortgage assistance, Weinandt said.
While the number of people in attendance at Wednesday's meeting was small, presenters stressed that there are still opportunities for area veterans to learn about and get access to benefits. Wing encouraged audience members to spread the word about resources available to veterans.
Military benefits and job-seeking assistance will also be among the topics addressed at the For All Who Have Served event today in Marshall. All veterans and current military servicepeople are invited to attend the event, which starts at noon in the Mercantile Building in downtown Marshall.