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Smith tours Minnesota Veterans Home during Luverne visit

LUVERNE -- As it nears its 25th anniversary celebration next week, the Minnesota Veterans Home in Luverne welcomed Sen. Tina Smith to its facility on Thursday afternoon for a tour and brief discussion on funding for veterans homes in the state.

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U.S. Sen. Tina Smith greets Clifford "Hooley" Huehn during her visit to the Minnesota Veterans Home in Luverne Thursday afternoon. Huehn is a native of Round Lake and served in the Marines during World War II. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)

LUVERNE - As it nears its 25th anniversary celebration next week, the Minnesota Veterans Home in Luverne welcomed Sen. Tina Smith to its facility on Thursday afternoon for a tour and brief discussion on funding for veterans homes in the state.

Smith, who arrived just as the home’s Memorial Day program concluded, greeted veterans, their families and staff. She then toured the facility with home administrator Luke Schryvers, Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Commissioner of Health Care Douglas Hughes and Senior Director Simone Hogan.

“It’s great to be here and get a sense for what you all are doing,” Smith said in her first visit to the Luverne veterans home.

She noted her work in Congress to help caregivers of veterans so they are able to stay home for as long as they are able, and said veterans issues is one place in government where Republicans and Democrats come together - “as they should,” she said.

As she sought input from those at the table, Hughes asked if Smith could help make sure the Mission Act “rolls out well” on June 6. Changes taking effect that day include a transition to the new Veterans Community Care Program, new eligibility criteria and the introduction to a new urgent care benefit.

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The new program is supposed to become effective after the VA publishes implementing regulations. The fact that hasn’t yet been done is worrisome to Smith, she said.

Also discussed was funding for adult day programs within the VA. Hogan said a new law passed last year was to fund adult day programs differently, thereby resulting in an increase in the program across the country. Currently, Minnesota is one of three states to have a state-run adult day program for veterans.

“When you are talking about caregiver support, adult day is really your best thing,” Hogan said. “But, we’re still waiting for the federal VA to roll out how to handle that and provide that higher reimbursement so we can look at expanding the model and serving more veterans.”

Also discussed was the federal funding contribution for three new veterans homes being proposed in Minnesota - in Montevideo, Preston and Bemidji. Federal funding levels are set at 65% for each project. Hughes said he’s hopeful to get the go-ahead by early next year so that construction can begin in 2020, and residents can begin being admitted in January 2022.

The Minnesota Veterans Home at Luverne is at capacity with 85 residents. Schryvers said there is a waiting list of 12 veterans, plus another 90 non-veterans (spouses of veterans).

In its 25-year history, the Luverne facility has cared for more than 840 Minnesota veterans and their families in either its general living areas or special care unit for those with dementia.

“We are committed to creating a community where life is truly worth living - with activities and interactions that residents find meaningful and enjoyable,” he said.

Celebration is Friday Luverne’s Minnesota Veterans Home will celebrate its 25th anniversary on Friday with a picnic-style meal, program and photo and video display.

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Schryvers said the Rock County Historical Society saved news clippings when talk first surfaced about building a veterans home in Luverne, and it continued to gather history as it was made with the construction and completion of the facility. Those items will be on display Friday, as well as other memorabilia and photographs taken throughout the past 25 years.

“We will be offering tours … and we’re also going to have an employment booth if there are people interested in a job opportunity here,” Schryvers said. “We are proud to be a vital part of the Luverne community. We are pleased to offer an excellent option for skilled nursing care to veterans and their spouses, and also provide a great place to work for our employees.”

Friday’s picnic, planned from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., will include a hot dog and chips meal, with tables and chairs set up in the front parking lot. The meal will be followed by an outdoor program, weather permitting. Guest speakers include Larry Herke, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, and Luverne Mayor Patrick Baustian. The Minnesota Veterans Home Luverne Choir is also slated to perform.

“We’re also going to recognize employees,” Schryvers said, noting that the home has 25 employees celebrating 25 years of employment at the veterans home.

All of the events are open to the public. People are asked to park in the church parking lot across the street from the veterans home, as rides will be provided via golf cart to the entrance. There is also limited parking space in the employee parking lot behind the home.

Construction on the veterans home in Luverne began in 1991 after years of pursuing $4.15 million in federal funding for the project. The city of Luverne financed the remaining $2.25 million of the $6.4 million project. More than $200,000 in donations came from local and veteran organizations.

The Luverne facility employs 196 health care professionals.

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U.S. Sen. Tina Smith greets attendees following a Memorial Day program at the Minnesota Veterans Home in Luverne Thursday afternoon. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)

Related Topics: TINA SMITH
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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