MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO)The Minnesotans’ Military Appreciation Fund is a charity unlike any other in the country that awards money to veterans.

The MMAF has awarded millions over the past decade to combat vets who are native Minnesotans.

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Depending on injury or loss, they get checks ranging from $500 to $10,000.

WCCO talked with one of the group’s founders, Brig. Gen. Denny Schulstad. For him, the military life is one he chose in the 1960s.

“I joined Air Force ROTC at the University of Minnesota,” Schulstad said. “My dad had been a bomber pilot during World War II.”

Schulstad says it was not easy seeing his peers return from Vietnam.

“Back then … if [people] didn’t agree with foreign policy, they would take it out on members of the military, which was absolutely disgraceful,” he said.

And so he developed a life-long passion for honoring men and women in uniform.

“They’re missing holidays back home, they’re missing the birth of their son or daughter, they’re postponing their weddings, they’re putting their career on hold volunteering to defend our nation,” Schulstad said.

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So his friend, Eugene C. Sit, came up with an idea after 9/11 to give money to every returning combat vet in Minnesota.

“And he pulled out a checkbook and said, ‘Here’s the first million dollars,’ and I said, ‘Now we can make it happen,'” Schulstad said.

And they did for thousands of vets and counting. One spent months in a Texas burn unit after an IED burned 92 percent of his body and fractured his neck. MMAF gave Scott Adams $10,000 so he could move home.

“It’s Minnesotans taking care of Minnesotans,” Adams said.

Marcia Hergott of Shakopee also got a check, in memory of her son, Jim, who was the first Minnesotan to die in Iraq after 9/11.

“I just thought it was wonderful, wonderful way to pay back everybody that’s served,” Hergott said.

That is exactly why Schulstad says they do it; it is a monetary salute.

“We always say, ‘This is not from the military, this is not from the taxpayers, this is not from the government, this is from the people of Minnesota who are saying, ‘Thank you for serving,'” Schulstad said.

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Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield