Panel recommends scrapping Minnesota Veterans Home Board

The panel wants to make the board advisory and install an executive director.

.ST. PAUL (AP) – A history of problems at the state-owned Minneapolis Veterans Home shows that the state Veterans Homes Board can’t effectively manage the facility and four other homes and should be relieved of that duty, a commission recommended Tuesday.

The commission – appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty to address the problems – has yet to vote to return control of the homes to the state Department of Veterans Affairs. That’s expected to happen on Nov. 19, which could start a process involving the governor and the Legislature.

“I think we will be sending a strong message that offers a new vision for what our veterans homes can become,” said commission chairman Dale Thompson.

The panel’s vision includes making the Veterans Homes Board an advisory body and installing an executive director for the homes who would be a deputy commissioner in the Veterans Affairs Department. The homes would expand services beyond their 863 residents to help aging veterans remain in their own homes, with help from the federal Veterans Affairs medical centers in Minneapolis, St. Cloud, Sioux Falls and Fargo.

The commanders of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and Military Order of the Purple Heart backed the rearrangement in a letter last week. They described the current board as shifting from “effective to disconnected/ineffective, to advisory, to operational and micromanaging.”

The commission’s preliminary report contained a dire assessment of the Minneapolis home.

“Morale is low, operational systems are ineffective, and sustainable improvements seemingly evade the best efforts of senior managers and the board of directors. Communications between the board and staff have broken down, and the veterans and the public are getting mixed messages about conditions at the Minneapolis home,” the report said.

The Minneapolis home has been cited for 66 state rule violations and fined $42,300 since 2005, with the deaths of three veterans linked to some of the breaches. The cost of fines, consultants and monitors over two years is approaching $1 million.

Regulators say the home’s operations are improving, while Veterans Board chairman Jeff Johnson said the home’s procedures are “broken and that we’re working very hard to fix them.” The board hired a new executive director, Gilbert Acevedo, who starts work in January.

The Veterans Homes Board was established in 1988 to take over two homes from the Veterans Affairs Department after major problems at the Minneapolis home. Today, there are homes in Minneapolis, Hastings, Luverne, Fergus Falls and Silver Bay.