Minn. vets groups make case for construction money

By KYLE POTTER, Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota veterans cranked up the pressure on lawmakers Friday to come through with money for a 100-bed addition at the Minneapolis Veterans Home.

A group of veterans are asking for $54 million in state funding to demolish outdated buildings on the campus and replace them with a skilled-nursing facility for veterans who need intensive care. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's plan for public construction projects fully funds the renovation, but the top House Democrat who oversees bonding left the project out of her construction bill.

The current facility has a growing waiting list that already is nearly 900 veterans seeking housing, more than half of whom are around the Twin Cities. That shows the Minneapolis facility desperately needs to add beds and finish the renovation, said Don Pankake, state commander of the Minnesota American Legion.

"The Minneapolis home is a mess," Pankake said.

The state has funded several chunks of a renovation over the years, but the uncertainty of whether there would be money for this third and final piece has put the project in limbo.

Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, and several other legislators joined the Commander's Task Force to call for a bonding bill to include funding for the Minneapolis Veterans Home.

"We've got to take care of veterans throughout Minnesota," Persell said.

House Capital Investment Committee Chairwoman Rep. Alice Hausman still hasn't ruled out funding the project in her bonding bill, which will soon move to the House floor. But she said lawmakers need to step back to survey the statewide veteran housing needs before pouring more money into the Minneapolis facility.

House Speaker Paul Thissen announced Friday, minutes before the group of veterans hosted their news conference in St. Paul, that he would form a committee to tackle the issue.

"At a certain point, you have to step back and say: `Is this the best direction for us to go as a state?"' said Hausman, DFL-St. Paul. "We should have a plan before we move ahead."

Hausman reiterated her belief that it may be a better to build several, smaller facilities throughout the state.