The2nd meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Seniors, Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection was held on Thursday, September 7, 2006, at 1:00 PM, in Room 169 of the Capitol Annex. Representative Mike Weaver, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Elizabeth Tori, Co-Chair; Representative Mike Weaver, Co-Chair; Senators Carroll Gibson, Vernie McGaha, Joey Pendleton, Dorsey Ridley, Dan Seum, Katie Stine,† and Rep Jack Westwood; Representatives Sheldon E Baugh, Carolyn Belcher, Tom Burch, Bill Farmer, Mary Harper, Gerry Lynn, Fred Nesler, Steve Riggs, Steven Rudy, Charles L Siler, and Ancel Smith.
Guests:† Wayne Harman, Deputy Secretary, Personnel Cabinet; Carla Hawkins, Commissioner, Department for Personnel Administration; Martye Pinkston, Deputy Commissioner, Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs; Pamela Luce, Benefits Branch Manager, Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs; David Huddleston, Executive Director, Office of Kentucky Veterans Centers; David Worley, Cemeteries Branch Manager, Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs; Dr. Patrick McKiernan, Homeless Veterans Coordinator, Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs; Larry Arnett, Joint Executive Council of Veterans Organizations; Don Dixon, JECVO; and Paul Schlisser, Non Commission Offices Association.
LRC Staff:† Scott Varland, CSA, Clint Newman, Mustapha Jammeh, Tyler Campbell, and Rhonda Schierer.
Co-Chair Weaver called the meeting to order. The minutes of the June 1, 2006, were adopted.
Representative Siler led the members and audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Co-Chair Weaver summarized resolutions in memory and honor of two soldiers who died in the war in Iraq: Staff Sergeant Santiago M. Halsel and Private First Class Christopher Neal White. Both resolutions were adopted by voice vote.
State hiring preference for veterans was then discussed with Wayne Harman, Deputy Secretary of the Personnel Cabinet, and Carla Hawkins, Commissioner for Personnel Administration, testifying.
Deputy Secretary Harman told the committee that there are 1,182 state merit job classifications. He said that there are 33,933 applications for state jobs in the Personnel Cabinetís database and 2,162 applicants (6.4%) received veteransí preference points. He said that the overall hiring numbers for state jobs have gone down considerably from last year by 20-30%, but they are still on track to match or exceed last yearís hiring numbers.
Mr. Harman told the committee that the Personnel Cabinet supports HB 24 as amended by the Free Committee Conference Report.† He added that between January 1, 2006, and July 31, 2006, 20% of veterans who interviewed got hired. Furthermore Personnel Cabinet representatives have met with the Kentucky Department of Veteransí Affairs (KDVA) to discuss ways to help veterans improve their chances of getting state employment.
Commissioner Hawkins explained the basic steps in the applicant interview process and added that some agencies have more stringent processes in addition to the basic steps. She said that the average one time interview process per job classification is 3.75-4 hours and per candidate is 3-4.75.† She further pointed out that while some registers may have 25 applicants some have 1,800 applicants. Ms. Hawkins also said that the Personnel Cabinet has started to identify veterans on registers.
Commissioner Hawkins said that hiring managers need to learn more about veterans in order to understand a veteranís application. The Personnel Cabinet is in the preliminary stages of translating veteransí competencies and skills for hiring managers to better understand applicants with military experience. She has one veteran on her counseling staff of 10. All members of that staff will be taught the significance of military experience. The Personnel Cabinet is considering ways to introduce questions in the hiring process that can draw out veteransí skills and competencies. The KDVA has offered to speak at Personnel Cabinet training sessions to explain issues relating to veterans. She said that the Personnel Cabinet is going to provide state employment information to military personnel as they leave the military.†
Ms. Hawkins reiterated the Cabinetís support for HB 24 as amended by the Free Committee Conference Report but highlighted some agency concerns. The low number of veterans on some registers is due to lack of interest on the part of veterans or a misunderstanding between what veterans think their skills and competencies are and what the counselors understand them to be. She added that the other area of concern is the quick filled positions that donít have a 10 day posting window before the interview process. She said that these are positions with high turn over rates, and it is critical to have these positions filled at all times. She added that agencies with quick filled positions conduct continuous interviews and are concerned with having to interview five veterans at any set time.
Next to speak were Marty Pinkston, Deputy Commissioner, and Pamela Luce, Benefits Branch Manager, from the KDVA. Deputy Commissioner Pinkston said that the KDVA had been working on veteransí preference long before it became an issue last year. The Department had been researching what other states have been doing with regards to veteransí preference.
Branch Manager Luce told the committee that in her research on veteransí preference in all 50 States, she found out that only Virginia does not claim to provide some form of veteransí preference. Forty states give special preference to disabled veterans, and 10 do not make any distinction between disabled and other veterans. Several states have a system similar to Kentuckyís points system. Thirty-nine states have a five point preference for veterans; eight states give a 10-point preference; Ohio adds 20% of the score a veteran earns to his or her final score; and New Jersey and Virginia donít have a points system. She added that New Jersey has a very strong veteransí preference system in that veterans are listed ahead of non-veterans on registers. Some states require a written justification when a veteran is passed over for a job. Ten states give internal mobility promotion preference to veterans.
Ms. Luce also told the committee that currently several definitions of ďVeteranĒ are in the Kentucky statutes. †KDVA believes that the definition of a ďVeteranĒ needs to be same as the federal definition. KDVA also recommends preference points for all members of the National Guard and Reserve. Ms Luce added that KDVA appreciates the Personnel Cabinetís initiative in identifying veterans on registers. Lastly, KDVA also recommends that a veteran be permitted to score over 100 points on a state job examination through the addition of veteransí preference points (five or ten) to that veteranís actual score on the examination.
Mr. Pinkston told the committee that HB 24 and its subsequent versions covered most of the recommendations the KDVA made to the committee last year. KDVA recommends that the 2007 General Assembly pass HB 24 as amended by the Free Conference Committee Report. Mr. Pinkston also said that at present, veteransí preference in Kentucky is in name only. Veteransí preference points play no role in the filling of most state job vacancies.
Co-Chair Weaver opened the floor to statements and questions.
Representative Burch said that the handling of the current war does not allow soldiers to have a career goal and be on the long term promotion list of their employers. He added that people who serve in the military should have an easier means to getting a job in state government, because they sacrifice a lot and most of the time are in harms way. Rep. Burch also stated that the nation and state government have an obligation to do better.
Representative Riggs said that the reluctance in giving enough credence to veteransí experience seems to come from the hiring managers. Ms. Hawkins said that the Personnel Cabinet recognizes that there is a misunderstanding in translating veteransí skills and competency, but the Cabinet is working on correcting that. The Cabinet currently has one counselor who is a veteran, and the Cabinet is in the process of training all the counselors to better draw out veteransí skills and experience during interviews.
Representative Riggs asked if a program has been established to do the training. Ms. Hawkins stated that the Cabinet started preliminary discussions with KDVA last month, and the Cabinet is looking at materials to incorporate into counselor training.
Representative Riggs asked if the counselors are aware of the new piece of legislation on veteransí preference. Mr. Harman stated that registers indicate whether someone has qualified for veteransí preference points. A ďVĒ is placed by the veteranís name. He does not know how much the counselors know about veteransí preference. Ms. Hawkins stated that the original concern was about the length of the interview process, because initially the legislation required all veterans to be interviewed. Mr. Harman added that the key concern is to get all counselors trained and know more about the legislation.
Co-Chair Weaver said that it is important for people who conduct interviews to understand the military system.
Co-Chair Tori stated that she was concerned about the actual mechanics in identifying veterans with a ďVĒ on the application. She asked if all agencies know what a ďVĒ stands for. Mr. Harman stated that they have that information on the application and the register.
Representative Baugh asked if length of service or disability is given any weight when determining preference for veterans. Mr. Harman said no, but they would have no problem doing that for disabled veterans.
Representative Baugh asked if it will be required for the disability to be service- connected. Ms. Hawkins stated that currently extra preference points are awarded for a service connected disability but not for other disabilities. A veteran receives five preference points. A veteran with service-connected disability receives 10 preference points.
Representative Baugh stated that it seems to him that it might be appropriate for a service-connected disability to get a higher weighting than a disability that arises after service. Ms. Luce stated that service-connected disabled veterans gets more points than other veteran, but the KDVA is concerned about identifying disabled veterans on the register. Some managers or agencies might be reluctant to hire them.
Representative Baugh asked if there are applicants other than veterans who can score more than 100 points on the state hiring examination. Mr. Harman stated that under current law no one may score over 100 on the examination. If HB 24 had passed, then veterans would have been able to score over 100 on the examination.
Senator Pendleton stated that people who do the hiring in state government need to be educated. He added that they shouldnít be concerned about the length of time it takes to interview veterans whoíve sacrificed a lot by putting their lives in harms way.
Representative Nesler asked if the Personnel Cabinet supports the Free Conference Committee Report version of HB 24. Mr. Harman stated that the Personnel Cabinet supports the Free Conference Committee Report.
Representative Nesler asked what is being done as far as getting someone who understands the military system. Ms. Hawkins said that she hired Barbara Barnes, an Air Force veteran, as her deputy, and she has really made a tremendous difference in helping the Cabinet understand the amount of skills and experience people can earn in the military. Ms. Barnes has been a great educational asset. Ms. Hawkins also said that their concern right now is to have all counselors better trained at interviewing veterans.
Representative Nesler asked how long it will take to educate the other nine or 10 counselors. Ms. Hawkins said that she would like to see something in place within the next two to three months. Ms. Luce added that KDVA has offered to be part of the Personnel Cabinetís curriculum to train the counselors and hiring managers. Representative Nesler stated that there needs to be a point person to interview veterans.
Co-Chair Weaver said that there are many retired veterans who will volunteer to help the Personnel Cabinet on an interim basis before they can hire the military expertise they need. He asked if the Personnel Cabinet was on board with the KDVAís recommendations: adopt a uniform definition of ďVeteranĒ in the statutes; allow preference points for all National Guard and Reservists; allow veteransí scores on examinations to exceed 100 points; identify veterans on registers; and offer interviews to the five most qualified veterans on the register. ††Mr. Harman answered in the affirmative.
Co-Chair Weaver stated that he sponsored HB 24, and he hoped that someone in the House of Representatives would file it early for next session since he is retiring from the General Assembly.
Representative Nesler stated that he was very appreciative of KDVA and the Personnel Cabinet agreeing to all the recommendation for HB 24, and Co-Chair Weaver concurred.
The committee then turned its attention to other veteransí issues. David Huddleston, Executive Director, Office of Kentucky Veterans Centers, gave the committee an update on current and planned Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCís) in and around Kentucky. Mr. Huddleston mentioned 16 CBOCís that are available to veterans and another ten that are scheduled to open in the next few years.
Co-Chair Weaver asked how long CBOCís have been in existence and why. Mr. Huddleston stated that CBOCís exist to increase healthcare access to veterans. He added that a great push in 1996, as a result of the Veterans Healthcare Eligibility Reform Act, increased healthcare access for all categories of veterans.
Co Chair Weaver asked if there are any CBOCís that predate 1996. Mr. Huddleston said that the Prestonsburg CBOC predates 1996, but most of the CBOCís came after 1996.
Co-Chair Weaver asked if the increase in CBOCís resulted from a shift in emphasis from inpatient care to outpatient care. Mr. Huddleston answered in the affirmative.
On Veteransí Nursing Homes, Mr. Huddleston stated that they have 261 residents in house, 24 available beds and 7 new residents scheduled in the Thomson Hood Veterans Center. He said that they are working on getting the word out that they have beds available in Central Kentucky. He added that in the past years there has always been a waiting list for beds in the nursing homes, but the opening of nursing homes in Western Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky in 2002 may have dispersed the demand. Mr. Huddleston pointed out that they are finishing up on a Special Care Unit renovation project in Thomson Hood and will be moving on to the renovation of the remaining three units. He said that the renovation project is currently number 24 on the federal Veteransí Administration (VA) priority list. He added that the State has its 35% match of funds, but the VA does not have their 65%.† He also said that there are probably $200 million worth of projects on the VA list ahead of it, but they are hoping to get the renovation completed in the next 2-3 years.
Mr. Huddleston stated that they have 118 residents in house, two available beds, two residents scheduled, and a total of 57 individuals on the waiting list at the Western Kentucky Veterans Center. He said that in response to the demand, they have applied to the VA for a 40 bed expansion. He added that the state has its 35% match of funds for this project, but the VA does not have their 65%. He said that this project is not yet on the VAís priority list and is going to take several years to carry out.
Co-Chair Weaver asked if the 35% state match is a requirement to be on the list. Mr. Huddleston stated that there are different places that you can be on the list. He added that they started on the 2006 priority 7 list, and now that they have their matching funds, they could move to 40-50th position on the priority 1 list.
Co-Chair Weaver asked if current capacity and number of beds are criteria in placement on the priority 1 list. Mr. Huddleston answered in the affirmative.
Mr. Huddleston said that in the Eastern Kentucky Veterans Center there are 119 residents in house, one available bed, and one resident scheduled. He added that the number of individuals on the waiting list is increasing and currently stands at 13. He stated that they have also submitted a pre-application to the VA for a new 160 bed nursing home. He added that the site for this new home is unspecified, but there is a tremendous need in the Jefferson/Hardin County area. He pointed out that the estimate for this new project is $21 million, and the state does not have the 35% matching funds at this point. Mr. Huddleston also said that should the 40 bed expansion in Western Kentucky and the additional 160 bed new home be approved and built, Kentuckyís total bed count will be 725. He pointed out that this still leaves room for a 34 bed domiciliary or assisted living capability under VA rules.
Co-Chair Weaver asked: how many acres will be needed for the new nursing home; where it will fall on the priority list if the state matching funds are available; and how long it will take to build the home. Mr. Huddleston said that 5-10 acres will be sufficient to build the home. He added that $7 million is required in the State matching funds, and it may take 5-6 years to build the home considering that there are currently a total of $700 million worth of projects at various stages of completion on the VAís list.
David Worley, Cemeteries Branch Manager, then talked to the committee about veteransí cemeteries. He stated that Kentucky loses about 25 veterans daily. Mr. Worley added that he expects the number to peak in the next few years. KDVA opened up a veterans' cemetery in Hopkinsville in March 2004, and construction of another is ongoing in Radcliff. KDVA has almost finished the design for Williamstown and will probably start construction bidding in the next six to eight weeks. KDVA plans on a ceremonial ground breaking at Williamstown on November 3rd. He also pointed out that KDVA is working on acquiring land for two more veterans' cemeteries in Greenup and Leslie Counties.
Mr. Worley stated that KDVA provides in-ground casketed sites, in-ground cremains, and a columbarium wall. He added that they bury dependents as well, eight of whom have been children so far. He showed the committee pictures of buildings at the veteransí cemetery in Hopkinsville. He also showed construction sites and plans for Radcliff and Williamstown cemeteries.
Next to speak to the committee was Dr. Patrick McKiernan, Homeless Veterans Coordinator at the 40 bed Homeless Veterans Transition Facility in Lexington. Dr. McKiernan told the committee that the Homeless Veterans Program currently receives $29.31 per resident daily from the VA to support its operations. He said that this covers a great amount of the cost but not all of it. He added that the Transition Facility currently has 39 veterans staying at the facility. Since the Transition Facility opened last year, 16 residents have graduated, and 14 others exited with improved status.
Dr. McKiernan also told the committee that Inter Link Counseling Services, a long term substance abuse program in Louisville, is about to begin construction of a 28 unit housing development that† will be give preference to veterans. He added that there is also a five bed women veteransí program at the same facility, and KDVA has applied for 10 additional beds for homeless women veterans. He added that last year they expended $28,105 from the veteransí program trust fund to assist 107 veterans who were in danger of losing their housing or becoming homeless. Dr. McKiernan told the committee that of the veterans who received housing assistance 33 were Katrina evacuees, and 65 others had dependent family members and were having a hard time maintaining housing. He added that the program is a very forward thinking program, and the veterans are extremely grateful for the assistance. So far this year, about $3,100 have been spent to assist nine veterans and their family members.
Representative Riggs asked what procedure is used to ascertain the status of those seeking assistance. Dr. McKiernan stated that in addition to name, date of birth, and social security number, KDVA obtains a veteranís original DD-214 or look it up in the VA computer to verify veteran status. He added that he has yet to have someone falsely claim veteran status.
Co-Chair Weaver asked if they get any of the money in the homeless veteransí trust fund from the veteransí program trust fund. Dr. McKiernan stated that most of the money comes from the veteransí program trust fund.
Co-Chair Weaver asked for the source of †most of the money in the veteransí program trust fund. Dr. McKiernan stated that most of the money comes from military license plate sales. There are also private donations.
Co-Chair Weaver stated that the committee will like an update on implementation of military license plate sales program. Co-Chair Weaver added that everyone on the committee with a House or Senate License plate automatically donates to the veteransí program trust fund. Mr. Pinkston added that the veteransí program trust fund gets donations from the sale of congressional, judicial, and military license plate sales as well.
Co-Chair Weaver stated that he would imagine that the veteransí license plate is becoming the most popular in the state. Mr. Pinskton said that its popularity is growing significantly.
Co-Chair Weaver asked for the committee to be provided figures and a comparison between veteransí plates and vanity plates.
Dr. McKiernan added that the homeless veteransí trust fund is an unfunded program, and it completely depends on money received from donations, charities, and the veteransí program trust fund.
Next on the agenda was the women veteransí program. Ms. Pamela Luce told the committee that she had been participating at the national level in meetings and programs that address women veteransí: healthcare, benefits, cemeteries, and other initiatives of concern to women veterans and those currently serving.
Ms. Luce said that the Kentucky Women Veterans coordinating committee has met several times and will meet again next week. Their concerns are very much in line with the women veterans nationally.
Co-Chair Weaver asked about the application to accommodate more homeless women veteransí at Inter Link Counseling Services and whether they made a case for the expansion. Ms. Luce stated the application was for a 10 bed expansion but has not been approved yet.
Representative Riggs announced that on September 29 there will be a release of The Guardian, a movie on the United States Coast Guard, and he recommended that everyone see it.
Mr. Pinkston said that KDVA appreciates the support of the committee. He added that there are only a handful of other departments around the nation who are able to do what KDVA is able to do in Kentucky with the support of the General Assembly. He urged members of the committee to attend funerals of fallen soldiers if they have the opportunity.
Representative Siler reported to the committee that 484 National Guard soldiers from his area have been activated to Camp Shelby, Mississippi to prepare for deployment. A group of wives and auxiliary got together and raised $95,000 to bring them home for a ten day leave and return them to camp for free. He added that their target was $80,000, but the response of the public exceeded expectations.
Co-Chair Weaver stated that during the previous weekend he was in Leitchfield, Kentucky where members of the Kentucky National Guard are preparing to deploy overseas with a Minnesota unit. The Kentucky soldiers complained to him that when they go with a National Guard unit from another state, that state takes care of their own before they take care of the Kentuckians.† He added that he made that point, because Kentucky National Guard members are making many sacrifices while participating on the Global War on Terrorism.
The meeting adjourned.