Fillmore County Veterans' Services Officer Jason Marquardt speaks to the veterans attending the forum.  PHOTO BY GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
Fillmore County Veterans' Services Officer Jason Marquardt speaks to the veterans attending the forum. PHOTO BY GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
"There was no line when they signed up to serve our country, they just went and signed up. Well, there shouldn't be a line when they come home and they need a job or they need an education or they need health care," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, speaking to veterans across the state in a video address presented as part of a two-week tour of Minnesota's counties.

Fillmore County veterans gathered at the Chatfield Center for the Arts this past Thursday afternoon for a forum held by the staff of Sen. Klobuchar's office. The area veterans took advantage of an opportunity to meet those in charge of ensuring that the benefits due veterans across the state are distributed as deserved.

Members of Klobuchar's staff, along with representatives of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), the Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs and the Fillmore and Olmsted county veterans' services offices were present.

Klobuchar's staff shared that the senator has a strong commitment to constituent advocacy and strives to assist those veterans who cannot get the benefits promised them. She also helps to untangle paperwork that complicates situations - such as when one Minnesota soldier was transferred from a base in Colorado to a base in another state and was granted customary travel funds for which he and his wife were later billed. Klobuchar encourages transparent, efficient communication between veterans' services agencies.

The representative from the Minnesota Department of Veterans' Affairs spoke of how help is available to veterans in finding employment, housing, information on pension services, and even to veterans incarcerated in Minnesota's prison system. They are devoted to "filling in the gaps wherever needed."

Olmsted Veterans' Services representative Neil Doyle related, "We serve approximately 2,000 to 2,500 walk-ins, or 20 veterans a day. We have a transportation program to Minneapolis to the VA Medical Center, and we provide a full-time secretary to arrange rides for veterans who need to go. We pick up in the Home Depot parking lot in Rochester because the manager lets us - and if someone needs to be picked up at home, we do that, too. We handle survivors' claims, dependency claims, burial claims since the population and veterans population is aging, we handle memorials and refer veterans to the Minnesota Workforce Development."

Fillmore County Veterans' Services Officer Jason Marquardt stated that his duties are "the same as Olmsted County's, only we have the veterans' cemetery coming to Preston."

The topic of the state's Preston veterans' cemetery received some attention, as the veterans in attendance at the forum were all of retirement age.

"We have six people cremated and waiting for the cemetery to be open," Marquardt stated, adding that the groundbreaking for the state cemetery has been moved to September or October.

Doyle contributed, "State burial allows people to apply before they're deceased. If you want to be buried in a federal cemetery, you have to wait with your request."

A veteran then inquired about several tenets of benefit entitlements, including vocational rehabilitation and veteran compensation, and while Klobuchar staffers were unable to directly answer his questions, they agreed that his points have merit and that any assistance they can give in finding the answers will be given.

Sen. Klobuchar remarked in her video address, "I've always believed that when we ask our men and women to fight and sacrifice for us in defense of our nation, we make a promise that we're going to give them support that they need when they come home."

Representatives of the various departments encouraged the veterans to share the resources available to every member of the military they know, active or veteran, and to contact the senator or local veterans' services if they need anything at all.