The 2021 DAV Disabled Veteran of the Year award was recently given to the current Chief of Staff at the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Mike McElhiney due to his advocacy and action for veteran causes. McElhiney’s journey began following 9/11, as he and fellow American soldiers were deployed as part of Operational Detachment Alpha 574, a team tasked to track Al-Qaeda and Taliban members in the Afghan city of Kandahar. Sadly, while in Afghanistan, a tragic accident involving a mistakenly dropped American bomb severely injured McElhiney, while killing 3 of his fellow Green Berets and 5 allied Afghan soldiers. The accident took the arm of McElhiney, but he was fortunate enough to survive his injuries.
McElhiney would stay in the United States Army until 2010, where he would then settle in Minnesota and dedicate his life to veteran-related causes, specifically for disabled veterans as he joined the Minnesota Department of Veteran Affairs as the legislative director. During his time in this role, McElhiney was instrumental in bringing veteran affairs to the forefront and would play a role in passing legislation assisting veterans. In 2015, McElhiney was able to get the Minnesota Legislature to put forth $32 million towards veteran homes in the state, with a promise from the federal department to provide $80 million more. In his new role as the department’s Chief of Staff, McElhiney has been instrumental in passing over 6 million dollars worth in grants towards veterans who have struggled financially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to these accomplishments, McElhiney has remained a staple at both the Minnesota level and United States level in being active in countless veteran fundraisers. “Impressed doesn’t begin to describe how other veterans and I across Minnesota feel about Mike and the immense impact he’s had,” said National Commander Butch Whitehead. “Mike brings a new meaning to what it means to serve veterans.” Through his service, McElhiney was honored with the DAV award.