Yellow Medicine County Veterans Officer Michelle Gatz was on hand at this week’s Yellow Medicine County Board meeting to update the Commissioners on the national conference on veterans affairs she attended in Washington, D.C. on November 29.

The conference brought together various state and county officials who work on veterans issues. Conference attendees listened to presentations from federal government officials and networked with their counterparts from across the United States.

Gatz informed the commissioners that several big changes were coming to the department, which she hoped would positively benefit the county. Of particular importance is the proposed expansion of the Choice Program, a federal program that connects veterans with private medical providers in the event they cannot receive treatment from a VA center within 30 days of submitting a request.

Gatz said there were concerns that it would be difficult to attract private practice doctors back into the Choice Program, because of prior delays in issuing payment. Another way the VA is working to streamline medical treatment for veterans is by encouraging remote medical appointments. The idea is for patients to meet with a nurse at their regular facility and then connect wirelessly with a specialist who might be located hundreds of miles away.

“This is going to be huge for us,” said Gatz. One possible problem with the plan is the lack of access to broadband in rural areas of the county. She told the Board that the VA is working with the federal government to expand access to broadband internet, but it might still take years for it to be fully developed. “This concerns me because this is going to be the way of the future,” Gatz said. “Yellow Medicine County vets might not be able to access the program because of poor connection.”

Gatz also told the Board that the VA is working on eliminating federal regulations that slow down the building of new housing for veterans. Currently, VA certified nursing homes are required to undergo 2 annual inspections, one the state and another from the federal government. According to Gatz, nursing homes in Canby and Granite Falls are not certified in part because their staff is unable to meet the demands of this regulation (Clarkfield is the only VA certified nursing home in the immediate area).

The VA is exploring whether or not to consolidate the inspections into an annual one time requirement. Gatz said this will help allow more nursing homes to help local veterans. “Everybody is in consensus that this would be a huge thing for everybody across the board,” Gatz told the Board.

Gatz is optimistic that there will be more progress in the area of apprenticeship programs to ease the transition into the workforce. She said the VA is working to expand these job training programs, which tend to help younger vets.

Reflecting on all of the new changes coming for 2018, Gatz said that she is excited; “I’m anxious to see what happens next.”