Did you know that our state has something called the “Minnesota Homeless Veterans Registry?”

We do. It’s a program operated by the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, and it records and tracks veterans experiencing homelessness and assists them in finding housing and necessary services. The registry is extensive and includes almost all if not all homeless veterans.

When the registry was started in 2014, it counted about 2,000 homeless veterans. Most have been helped, leaving about 225 still in need of a home. Gov. Tim Walz and many other state leaders have vowed to bring that number to zero by the end of this year. Several regions of the state are now designated as having ended veteran homelessness.

In fact, the state’s two senators and all eight congressional representatives have urged the federal Department of Veterans Affairs to adopt a similar program. They wrote together, “We write regarding the urgent need to address veteran homelessness and to highlight efforts by the state of Minnesota to address this critical issue.” The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are almost 50,000 homeless veterans nationwide.

In a time where government bureaucracy continually gets a bad name for poor response and service, this is one specific program that makes sense and is working. Even if that magical zero number is reached, our veterans agencies will need to stay vigilant to address changes to our veteran population. Issues such as drug dependency and mental illness can quickly take a person from a stable lifestyle to crisis.

I’ve heard about this registry on several occasions and was struck by the logic and execution. It has worked and continues to work to help veterans with ongoing issues and needs.

I’ve recently heard some rather nasty snippets on social media asking why veterans should get special treatment. Fortunately those rants are rare. I think most people agree that veterans have given up a chunk of their lives to serve our country and we owe them something in return. At the very least, we need to live up to our commitments, offering them transition assistance, health care and safety nets.

That’s why we need to continually remind our elected officials that veterans programs and the Veterans Health Administration get the funding and support they need and not let those allocations get bogged down in unrelated political battles or used as leverage.

I’ve said it before, but veterans programs and support should never get to the “either-or” stage. We CAN support veterans’ needs and not tie it in to debates over education, immigration or budget deficits. Veterans issues should also be freed of connection to hot-button national defense decisions being made today.

I am proud of my family’s veterans. My father and two uncles served in World War II, and a cousin in Vietnam. Those four are gone now, but I can point to a nephew in the Marines and several other close friends of the family in active duty across the world.

We shouldn’t think of veterans only in November around Veterans Day. We should be aware of their special needs and our obligations to them year-round. Don’t just thank a veteran, ask him or her how we can support them. Ask if there are messages that are being lost in today’s volatile political climate that we can share.

And let’s continue to support programs like the homeless veterans registry and encourage a similar initiative on the national level. It’s the least we can do to show our appreciation for their service to all of us.

One final note: Any veteran in need of help can contact the LinkVet Support site, linkvet.org, for support seven days a week. The phone number is 1-888-LinkVet (1-888-546-5838). — Peggy Bakken (Editor’s note: Bakken is a former executive editor and a columnist for APG-East Central Minnesota. Reactions welcome: peggy.bakken@ecm-inc.com.)

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