The Itasca County Veterans Services Office was successful in helping the county’s veterans receive more than $21 million in federal compensation in 2017. This included $18.5 million for those with service-related disabilities, $1.8 million for 113 surviving spouses of Veterans who have passed away in the line of duty or due to a service-related injury, and $952,000 for pensions.

During the Aug. 14 meeting of the Itasca County Board, Itasca County Veterans Services Officer Luke St. Germain gave an update on his department. After just six months on the job, replacing retiring Vets Officer Hugh Quinn, St. Germain thanked his staff to allow him to get out and about to visit all of the county’s veterans organizations.

While the $21 million is an impressive number, St. Germain said they’ve seen a monthly decrease of about a $16,000 in this funding this year. He said it’s tough to know exactly what may be causing the decrease but Itasca County’s age disparity among veterans may be a contributing factor. Still, St. Germain told commissioners the office seems to be “on pace for exceeding $21 million for 2018.”

Also in 2017, Itasca County Veterans received $100,964 in support from the State Soldier Assistance Program (SSAP) for direct or emergency services. And, so far, in 2018 $59,302 in SSAP.

“We received the eighth most (among other Minnesota counties) despite we rank 22nd in population and our vets population has us at 15th,” explained St. Germain.

Another recent accomplishment of the office, St. Germain said was the addition of Telehealth - something his predecessor had pushed for with the VA for years.

“We finally won that battle and we have a computer in our office now,” said St. Germain as he explained that the computer allows veterans to have health consultations with the VA clinic via Skype.

St. Germain was also happy to report that the Itasca Veterans Council is still operating successfully and coordinates van trips about 12 times a month to VA clinics. He said they are in need of additional volunteer drivers.

Rural health care remains a challenge for the Itasca County Veterans Services Office as is mental health. St. Germain said the office makes it a point to maintain good relationships with local mental health resources to provide referrals.

Commissioner Davin Tinquist asked St. Germain what the county board can do to provide continued support to veterans. St. Germain asked for board leadership to join him when it comes time to approach state legislators with issues and concerns.

St. Germain also mentioned his interest in the special Vets Court that has been recently established in neighboring St. Louis County. While that population is significantly higher, St. Germain thought something similar could work in Itasca County, especially with the Wellness Court here.

“Maybe some vets consideration could be made with Wellness Court and I could meet with them to give some VA info,” as part of the court process for veteran offenders, explained St. Germain.

In other business, the board:

Approved warrants totalling $2,680.564.31 to be dated Aug. 17, 2018.

Heard a report from the local Mental Health Advisory Council regarding the voice they give to people with mental illness and education provided to consumers. The council meets the first Tuesday of the month at 5 p.m. at the Itasca Family YMCA. A meal is offered. Some of the topics covered include suicide prevention, wellness and recovery, programs and events and more.

Heard a report from public health on the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program. Director of Public Health Kelly Chandler explained that funding to the program is dependent on the number of participants. In 2017, Itasca County had between 820-879 participants and received $155,976 in funding which was provided via vouchers to participants to be spent on specific food items, baby food or formula. Chandler explained that starting next month, the vouchers will be replaced with cards (similar to EBT cards). For more information about WIC, call 218-327-6705.

Heard an update on construction activity throughout the county. Grading on CSAH 48 and 49 is complete and paving is scheduled for Aug. 27.

Approved a letter of support for Minnesota Power’s proposal to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to install fast charge electric vehicle stations in Greater Minnesota.

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