Changes in rules denounced
Several veterans’ organizations are opposing a plan to tighten the rules for who can get into the state’s veterans homes. Under a new proposal, former prisoners of war, Purple Heart recipients and veterans with a service-connected disability rating of 70 percent or higher would move to the front of the line to get a space in a home. But spouses of veterans, who now have equal access to the state’s five veterans’ homes on a first-come first-served basis, would be knocked down in the pecking order.
Groups including the American Legion and the state’s county veterans’ service officers are objecting strenuously. They contend that the new rules violate an unspoken but solemn compact with spouses, who may be more in need than some veterans who would get priority over them.
“The veterans I talk to are just as concerned about a fellow veteran’s widow as they are about a fellow veteran. We’re all family,” Army veteran Tommy Johnson, a blogger, veterans advocate and a Veterans of Foreign Wars member from Hopkins told the Star Tribune. “Sure, other states may do that. Other states may do a lot less for the veterans than Minnesota does.”
While the veterans’ lobbying groups are a force at the state capitol, they are up against legislators who are equally committed to the chance. “My feeling is the veterans who have suffered the most as a result of their military service should have a priority in going into the homes,” said Rep. Jerry Newton, DFL-Coon Rapids, the author of the proposal, which is part of a bill before the Minnesota Legislature. The eligibility change was one of several recommendations made last year by a legislative committee, to address veterans’ homelessness and cut costs. Limiting spousal eligibility is one way to reduce costs.
Funding for long-term nursing like that provided in the state’s veteran homes is the most expensive form of care for a rapidly increasing elderly population. The $161.5 million it cost to operate Minnesota’s five state-operated veterans homes made up 77 percent of the state Department of Veterans Affairs’ budget last year. (Source: Metropolitan Council)
Dollar zones give riders a break
Metro Mobility riders in the designated downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul zones will be getting a price break. The Metropolitan Council March 26 approved a $1 fare for Metro Mobility customers traveling within the designated zones. The fare change took effect April 1.
“It’s a matter of providing matching service between Metro Mobility and Metro Transit,” said Metro Mobility Manager Andrew Krueger. “Federal law requires that we charge no more than twice the fare for a comparable regular-route trip, which is 50¢ for a Metro Transit trip within the zone. The reduced fare for Metro Mobility establishes a corresponding fare.”
Metropolitan Council is the Twin Cities regional planning agency. The council contracts with five public and private providers for paratransit service, including Metro Mobility. Metro Mobility is a door-to-door transportation service for people with disabilities, with a regular fare of $3 and $4 for non-peak and peak travel times, respectively. In 2013, Metro Mobility provided more than 1.8 million rides to eligible and certified customers in the seven-county metro area.
Based on ridership information, staff estimate nearly 2,200 Metro Mobility trips occur each year wholly within the downtown zones, about 1,040 in Minneapolis and 1,150 in St. Paul. The fare change is seen as allowing para-transit riders to move affordably among and between restaurants, retail, businesses and activities within the designated areas.
Customers should schedule trips with their providers as usual, and to avoid paying the usual fare, simply remind the driver when they pay that they are riding only within the downtown zone. Anyone with questions is urged to call Customer Services at 651-602-1111 (TTY 651.221.9886) between 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Questions and comments can also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org (Source: Star Tribune)
Mental health center closing affects thousands
The March 17 closing of Riverwood Centers left nearly 4,000 residents of East Central Minnesota searching for new mental health service providers and scrambling to find therapists, therapy groups and continued medication. The Braham-based service provider was known for years as Five County Mental Health Centers. Only Isanti, Chisago and Pine counties were part of its contracted services for people who were uninsured or underinsured when it closed due to financial reasons. Riverwood Centers also had offices in Cambridge, Milaca, North Branch, Pine City and Mora. About 100 people were employed by Riverwood Centers.
Besides crisis services, Riverwood Centers provided psychological assessment and therapies, medication management, community-based mental health rehabilitation services for children and adults, anger management and offender treatment programs, individual, family and group therapy, and emergency in-home visits.
Isanti County Family Services Director Penny Messer told the Isanti County Times that the county had been paying $264,000 per year for its contracted services through Riverwood Centers. County officials knew the center had financial difficulties, but got less than one week’s notice of the closing. Other media reports indicate that the withdrawal of Mille Lacs County also had a negative impact on Riverwood Centers’ bottom line.
Crisis services and a 24-hour crisis hotline are being provided by another agency. Isanti County is working with other affected counties and other area mental health service providers, such as Allina Hospitals, Family Based Therapy Associates and Safe Transitions, to see if those agencies can meet clients’ needs. “Our Isanti County clients are the most important to us right now, and we are working with them to make sure they are receiving their case management services,” Messer said. “We are working hand-in-hand with our resource lists, and all of our staff have this listing to pass on to Riverwood clients.”
“We have a heavy heart for those individuals right now,” Messer said. “We knew Riverwood Centers’ closing was a possibility due to its financial situation, and we knew when it happened we’d have to go into crisis mode. We are prepared and are finding these clients the resources they need.”
Other counties are also working with their clients. Chisago County is setting up an emergency hotline, offering resource referral and preparing staff to field a higher volume of calls from residents who have been impacted by the abrupt closing at Riverwood Centers. One concern for all of the counties affected by the closing is that data privacy regulations prohibiting Riverwood from sharing information with counties. (Source: Isanti County News, Mille Lacs Messenger)
Disability suit filed in Madelia woman’s case
A Madelia woman has filed a lawsuit accusing Windom-based Staples Enterprises and Staples Oil Co. and owner Brent Staples of discriminating against her because of her disability. Plaintiff Brenda Mosser has epilepsy, but contends she was still capable of doing her job as customer service representative for a Madelia convenience store.
The Staples company bought the store in 2009. In August 2010 Mosser tripped on a carpet and suffered a workplace injury, resulting in a laceration on her right elbow. The complaint alleges Staples believed the fall was caused by Mosser’s disability, despite her assertion it was a normal accident.
According to the suit, Staples allegedly told Mosser’s manager “Why do we have a person with such a messed up life working here?”
Mosser also alleges in the lawsuit that she was concerned about losing her job in retaliation for filing a complaint, and that after the store merged with another business in 2010, she was let go. Two more employees were hired after Mosser was terminated.
Mosser’s lawsuits charges Staples and his businesses with violating the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Act. She is seeking damages in an amount greater than $50,000 and punitive damages as deemed appropriate by the court. Last year the Minnesota Department of Human Rights decided there is probably cause for a human rights violation.
Staples has denied the allegations in court filings, and in filings with the state. (Source: Mankato Free Press)