The2nd meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Seniors, Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection was held on Thursday, July 7, 2005, at 1:00 PM, in Room 111 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Elizabeth Tori, Chair, called the meeting to order.
Members:Senator Elizabeth Tori, Co-Chair; Representative Mike Weaver, Co-Chair; Senators Carroll Gibson, Denise Harper Angel, Vernie McGaha, Daniel Mongiardo, Joey Pendleton, Jerry P Rhoads, Richard "Dick" Roeding, Dan Seum, Katie Stine, and Jack Westwood; Representatives Sheldon E Baugh, Carolyn Belcher, Tom Burch, James Carr, Bill Farmer, Mary Harper, Gerry Lynn, Fred Nesler, Tanya G Pullin, Tom Riner, Steven Rudy, Charles L Siler, and Ancel Smith.
Guests: No guests signed in.
LRC Staff: Scott Varland, Clint Newman, and Wanda Riley.
The meeting began with the Dedication and Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony for the Homeless Veterans Transitional Treatment Program at the Leestown Division of the VA. The program will be managed by the Volunteers of America of Kentucky, Inc. in partnership with the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The speakers were Barbara Banaszynski, Chief Operating Officer, Volunteers of America of Kentucky, Inc., Sandy J. Nielsen, Director, Lexington Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Commissioner Leslie E. Beavers, Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, and Heather French Henry, Homeless Veterans Advocate and Former Miss America.
After the Dedication and Ribbon-Cutting, the secretary called the Roll.
The Committee adopted Resolutions honoring four soldiers who had recently died in Iraq: Private First Class James W. Price, Specialist Michael R. Hayes, Sergeant Christopher W. Phelps, Sergeant Joseph M. Tackett, and Sergeant Ryan Jay Montgomery.
Erwin Roberts, Secretary of the Personnel Cabinet, spoke on the State Hiring Preference for Veterans. He began by saying that both he and his father are veterans. It is absurd to suggest that he would not want to help veterans.
Secretary Roberts said that KRS 18A.150 establishes the veterans preference in state hiring. When a state job requires a test, 5 points are added to an honorably discharged veteran's score, and 10 points are added to a disabled veteran's score. Under some circumstances, the spouse and parents of a veteran qualify to have 10 points added to their scores.
Secretary Roberts went on to discuss how adding points to the score of a veteran or a member of the veteran's family under KRS 18A.150 does not automatically benefit that veteran or family member. He gave an example where an individual must meet minimum job requirements and then score between 85 and 100 on the test to be one of the top 5 candidates placed on the register for review by the requesting agency. This approach creates two barriers to an individual being considered for employment. Mr. Roberts described 3 hypothetical applicants. Applicant 1 meets the minimum requirements and scores an 85 that places him in the top 5 candidates. He is already on the register, so the 10 point preference does not help him. Applicant 2 meets the minimum requirements and scores 79. She is not in the top 5 candidates for consideration. When 10 points are added to the 79, Applicant 2 scores 89. She is now in the top 5 and is placed on the register. Applicant 3 meets the minimum requirements and scores a 74. With a 10 point preference, this individual scores an 84. Even with the preference, this individual is not in the top 5 who are placed on the register. Of the 3 applicants, only Applicant 2 benefited from the preference.
Secretary Roberts then cited a real life situation of individuals applying to be an Administrative Specialist II. There were 1229 applicants. 551 were eligible for consideration. 44 individuals were applicants with veterans preference points. Of the 44 with preference points, 5 were eligible for consideration.
Secretary Roberts then compared the qualifying method with the testing method. Under the qualifying method, all three of the applicants meet the minimum requirements and qualify for consideration by the requesting agency. This outcome occurs, because one barrier to consideration (the test) has been removed.
Senator Stine said that the qualifying method makes it possible for more veterans to qualify for consideration. Secretary Roberts agreed with Senator Stine and said that the administration is eager to help veterans who qualify for consideration.
Senator Roeding said that by using the qualifying method more often for state hiring, the state will make more veterans eligible for employment. People should get the facts before they criticize changes made in the personnel system.
Rep. Burch asked Secretary Roberts how many veterans had the Fletcher administration hired. Secretary Roberts said that he would gather that information.
Co-Chair Tori asked Secretary Roberts if he was considering identifying veterans on the register. Secretary Roberts said that he was looking into that.
Rep. Belcher urged Secretary Roberts to place a V on the applications of veterans so that interviewers would know that they were talking to a veteran.
Senator Stine asked whether veterans receive veterans points when they move from one job to another in state government. Secretary Roberts said that they do not receive veterans points.
Co-Chair Tori read from Governor Fletcher's letter to veterans concerning state employment for veterans: "Veterans should always have every opportunity possible to continue to serve in government. Building on their obvious self-discipline and dedication is an advantage for any employer. You have my personal commitment to uphold the earned rights of our veterans and honor them and their families for their selfless service. I have a deep and abiding respect and appreciation for the sacrifices you have made to ensure the blanket of freedom enjoyed by all citizens of the Commonwealth and our great nation."
Next on the Agenda was a presentation on Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs (KDVA) programs.
BG (Ret.) Les Beavers, Commissioner of the KDVA, made opening remarks. He said that the department's mission is stated in KRS 40.310 and KRS 40.340. He saw his responsibility in terms of assisting Kentucky's 370,000 veterans and their 606,000 family members. He reviewed the KDVA budget and employee figures. He concluded by saying that since 2000 there has been a 37% increase in veterans' benefits dollars expended in Kentucky. This means that during the last fiscal year veterans' benefits amounted to over one billion dollars expended in Kentucky.
Mr. Dave Huddleston, Executive Director, Office of Kentucky Veterans Centers, spoke next on Kentucky Veterans Nursing Homes. The Thomson Hood Veterans Center is located in Wilmore, Kentucky. There are 267 residents with 3 individuals on the wait list. There are 370 employees. With federal funding, it will be possible to do a large amount of renovation at Thomson Hood. The Western Kentucky Veterans Center is located in Hanson, Kentucky. There are 120 residents with 66 individuals on the wait list. There are 172 employees. He wants a 90 bed expansion. An outpatient clinic should open in September of this year. The Eastern Kentucky Veterans Center is located in Hazard, Kentucky. There are 118 residents with 10 individuals on the wait list. A new equipment storage building is under construction. It is important to improve the pharmacy sharing agreement available to the Eastern Kentucky Veterans Center.
Mr. Huddleston said that the passage of House Bill 439 makes possible the avoidance of $1.5 million in annual provider tax payments. In addition, during FY 05, nursing homes will generate $1.5 million for reinvestment in construction and salaries.
Mr. Huddleston said that at present veterans nursing homes are not Medicaid certified. The General Fund pays $13 million; resident charges pay $11.2 million; and federal VA per diem pays $10.8 million. This will change in FY 06. Medicaid will pay $16 million; the General Fund will pay $3.5 million; resident charges will pay $6 million; and the federal VA will pay $10.8 million. The new approach will have no adverse impact on the Medicaid system. The new approach will have pros and cons for veterans. With regard to pros, a resident will be charged based on his or her income; the monthly rental/utility expenses will be considered in the resident's charge; and Medicaid will cover Medicare copays and deductibles. With regard to cons, Medicaid will recover medical expenses from the estate; the resident allowance will decline $40 per month depending on federal VA pension status; and there may be a stigma for a person labeled a Medicaid recipient.
Mr. Huddleston said that there are some issues with the federal VA budget for 2006. The budget limits eligibility for per diem payments to service-connected veterans only. There is a potential loss of $9.3 million on an annual basis. The budget also places a moratorium on new construction.
John Kramer, Veterans Branch Manager, Veterans Benefits Operations, spoke on the KDVA program to help veterans obtain benefits. His office is currently located at 545 South Third Street in Louisville. In December, he and his Louisville staff will move to Waterfront Plaza at 3rd and Main Streets in Louisville.
Mr. Kramer said that Veterans Benefits Operations assists and represents claimants, for which Benefits Operations holds Power of Attorney. Benefits Operations can: submit evidence on behalf of the claimant; submit motions; prepare written arguments; provide oral arguments in personal hearings; and sign on behalf of a claimant. Benefits Operations assists all claimants, including veterans and their parents, spouses, and children.
His staff consists of 15 field representatives located throughout Kentucky, 4 veterans regional administrators located in Louisville, 3 administrative personnel located in Louisville, and 1 administrative branch manager located in Louisville. Field representatives: initiate most of the claims files; provide benefits counseling; assist claimants in completing any necessary forms; visit each of the 120 counties every month; conduct home visits; and conduct seminars and other activities to promote awareness. Regional administrators represent claimants in the appeals process. Mr. Kramer's staff is also helping the federal VA Regional Office in reducing its backlog.
Mr. Kramer observed that as his office has employed more individuals more benefits have been obtained. In 1997, $1 million in benefits were awarded due to representation by his office. In 2004, $52.9 million in benefits were awarded due to representation. During this time, the number of employees increased from 9 to 21.
Mr. Kramer urged anyone to contact his office to help a veteran or a veteran family member obtain benefits. He can be reached by phone at (502) 595-4447 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Co-Chair Tori asked Mr. Kramer how many agents in the field were paid and how many were volunteers. He said that there were 15 paid field representatives and about 150 volunteers provided by service organizations. Co-Chair Tori asked Mr. Kramer to explain why it took so long between the time a claim was filed and the time a benefit was received. He said that there are various reasons why a claim is delayed. The person filing a claim may not know how to properly fill out a claim. The claims helper may make a mistake. Lastly, the federal VA may have to do extensive research. Co-Chair Tori said that the General Assembly should investigate ways to speed up the process.
David Worley, State Veterans Cemetery Branch Manager, discussed the State Veterans Cemetery Program.
Mr. Worley said that Kentucky must achieve three goals to obtain a federal grant to build a veterans cemetery. First, suitable land must be deeded to the state. Second, there must be a viable A/E design. Third, the Kentucky state budget must indicate a commitment to operate the cemetery in perpetuity.
Mr. Worley said that Kentucky has five state veterans cemeteries at different stages of development. The Kentucky Veterans Cemetery West (Hopkinsville) opened March 1, 2004. So far, there have been 200 interments. The Kentucky Veterans Cemetery Central will be located at Fort Knox. The pre-design conference was held September 23, 2004. Luckett and Farley was hired to design the cemetery. The contractor bid will be evaluated in September. The Kentucky Veterans Cemetery North (Williamstown) has put out an RFP for design firms to submit their bids. Kentucky Veterans Cemetery Northeast will be built in Greenup County, Kentucky Veterans Cemetery Southeast will be built in Leslie County.
Mr. Worley concluded by saying that the KDVA administers a Burial Honors Program. The KDVA provides financing to augment the federal program. The KDVA provides a stipend to service organizations for burials, flag presentations, and music.
Ms. Pamela Luce, Women Veterans Coordinator, spoke on the newly established Kentucky Women Veterans Program. This program came into being through passage of HB 62 during the 2005 Session of the Kentucky General Assembly. She said that the goal of the program is to ensure that Kentucky's women veterans have equitable access to federal and state veterans' services and benefits. The Program is contacting women veterans, giving them materials, and placing them on a registry. The Program has raised awareness through presenting itself as a national model at the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs, alerting the media, holding a conference, conducting training sessions for veterans service organizations, and speeches. The Program is in the process of appointing a coordinating committee.
Dr. Pat McKiernan, Homeless Veterans Coordinator, spoke on homeless veterans. He said that the 2000 Kentucky General Assembly passed House Bill 295 to assist homeless veterans on a statewide basis by providing treatment for addictions and mental illness, providing shelter, and finding employment and permanent housing.
Dr. McKiernan said that 33% of homeless men are veterans, although veterans comprise only 23% of the general adult male population. He estimated that there are 3500 homeless veterans in Kentucky: 1,000 in Louisville, 250 in Lexington, and 245 in Northern Kentucky. The rest are scattered throughout the state.
He said that homelessness is caused by addiction and mental illness. He observed three crucial aspects to addiction. Addiction is a disease of the brain. All diseases of the brain have behavioral symptoms. Behavioral therapy heals brain impairments. There are several societal benefits of treatment. Benefits outweigh costs four to one. Medical costs, homelessness, and criminality are reduced while mental health improves and employment increases.
Dr. McKiernan described the Homeless Veterans Transition Facility in Lexington. He said that the KDVA, federal VA, and Volunteers of America are working together to run the facility. The facility opened in April and has 40 beds. The goal of the facility is to return each veteran to a state of dignity and self-sufficiency.
Mike, a homeless veteran staying at the Transition Facility, spoke next. He said that he is a recovering alcoholic who has stayed at the facility for the last ten weeks. He shares the facility with 11 other individuals. The 12 residents help each other. They are rearranging their thinking. He concluded by saying that he is grateful to the General Assembly for creating the facility.
The meeting adjourned.