The2nd meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Seniors, Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection was held on Thursday, August 2, 2007, at<MeetTime> 12:00 PM, in Room 171 of the Capitol Annex. Representative Tanya Pullin, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Elizabeth Tori, Co-Chair; Representative Tanya Pullin, Co-Chair; Senators Carroll Gibson, Denise Harper Angel, Vernie McGaha, Dick Roeding, Dan Seum, and Jack Westwood; Representatives Sheldon E. Baugh, Carolyn Belcher, Larry Belcher, Bill Farmer, David Floyd, Jeff Greer, Tim Moore, Steve Riggs, Tom Riner, Steven Rudy, Sal Santoro, Charles Siler, Dottie Sims, Ancel Smith, and John Tilley.
Guests: Adjutant General Donald C. Storm, Colonel Judy A. Greene-Baker, Military Family Assistance Trust Fund Board; Carlos Pugh, JECVO; Larry Arnett, JECVO; Marchele Otten, Talkman Powell, AFA/AFSN; Mike Westerman, AFA/AFSN; Clint Mishew, NCOA; Paul Schlisser, NCOA; George Larsen, American Legion; Dave Jarrett, DAV; Lucian Townsell, VFW; David Parker, VFW; Leroy Spaulding, MOPH; Tom Quisenberry, Billy Garwood, VFW; Ted Austin American Legion; Mike Phelps, American Legion; Ronald Abney, VFW; Billy Waters, VFW; James Grivich, AMVETS; Chuck McAfee, VFW; Larry Fohl, Troops to Teachers; Jessie McWilliams, VFW; John O Marsh, VFW/MOAA; John C. Toy, VFW; Gene Hammrick, AL; Glen Georg, AL; David Cobb, AL; Paul Bunn, AL; Richard Durrum, VFW; Ed Simon, AFSA; Mike Smith, VFW; James A. Chambers, Fleet Reserve Assn.; Don Dixon, MCL; Marsha Hockensmith, P&A; Josheph Bramer, VFW; Doug Farley, American Legion; and James Tennell, American Legion.
LRC Staff: Scott Varland, CSA, Clint Newman, Mustapha Jammeh, Tyler Campbell and Rhonda Schierer.
Co-Chair Tori called the meeting to order. The committee adopted minutes from the June interim committee meeting and agreed to add a letter from Brig. General (Ret) Leslie Beavers, Commissioner, Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs (KDVA) to the minutes. Co-Chair Tori introduced representatives of various veteran service organizations: Jimmy Grizzel, AMVETS; Lucien Townsend, VFW; Ted Osten, American Legion; Ed Simon, Air Force Sergeant Association; and John Toy, a Pearl Harbor survivor.
Co-Chair Tori asked the committee and audience to offer a moment of silence to the victims of the tragic bridge accident in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Co-Chair Tori introduced a resolution in honor of Mr. Scott J. Varland, Committee Staff Administrator, Interim Joint Committee of Seniors, Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection, who is retiring from the Legislative Research Commission after 22 years of dedicated service. The resolution was unanimously adopted by voice vote.
Co-Chair Pullin expressed that she is very sad that Mr. Varland is leaving the LRC. Mr. Varland had been of tremendous help to her since she started as the new Co-Chair of the committee. Mr. Varland’s expertise and historical knowledge of the committee would surely be missed.
Co-Chair Pullin summarized four Committee Resolutions honoring the following soldiers who lost their lives in the Global War on Terrorism: Corporal Joshua ‘Josh’ McKay Moore; Private First Class Timothy R. Vimoto; Sergeant First Class William Andrew Zapfe; Lance Corporal Robert A. ‘Robbie’ Lynch. She asked the committee to observe moments of silence to honor the memories of these fallen soldiers. All four resolutions were unanimously adopted by voice vote.
Co-Chair Pullin then recognized Ms. Marchele Otten, a military spouse, to talk to the committee about concerns of military families, including what the state might do to help these families while soldiers are deployed and when they come home. Co-Chair Pullin also thanked and expressed the committee’s appreciation to Ms. Otten for helping them understand the needs of military families.
Ms. Otten thanked the committee for inviting her to speak on behalf of military families in the Commonwealth. She stated that Ms. Melinda Long, who was also on the agenda to testify, could not make it to the meeting due to other obligations. Ms. Otten pointed out that military families undergo a lot of stress and mental challenges during the deployment process. She added that her husband, CW3 John Otten, has been home for a little over a year, and they are still recovering from the deployment. She said that the process could continue for another two to three years.
Ms. Otten told the committee that her family was given a two-week notice before her husband deployed to Afghanistan. She said that during that two-week period, their main water line broke, and their air conditioning went out as well. She added that with two boys, ages 10 and 7 in school, it had been really hard and stressful for her family. She stated they have been able to cope mainly because of help from family members and their church. She added that there are many families who do not have anybody to help them or do not know who to contact for assistance.
Ms. Otten told the committee that it will be very helpful to the families if some sort of family readiness packet came with deployment orders. She said that three days before her husband left for Afghanistan, they attended an informational briefing at Bluegrass Station where they were giving a lot of information. She further suggested that it would be better to provide briefings to families during the two-week period of training for deployment instead of days before the soldiers deploy. She added that it would also be nice to set up something that will better prepare families mentally for deployment.
Ms. Otten stated that her husband spent three months in Camp Shelby, Mississippi before they deployment, and that she personally saw the awful accommodations for the soldiers during her family’s visit there. She stated that she heard of other units in places like New Jersey where soldiers trained for only two to three weeks before they deployed. She told the committee that the Florida National Guard had a big part in her husband’s latest mission, and that the Florida Guard treated the Kentucky National Guard soldiers very badly. She added that the Kentucky National Guard soldiers were asked to do things that didn’t have anything to what their specialty while at Camp Shelby or in Afghanistan. Ms. Otten said that she is still hearing more horror stories concerning the treatment of Kentucky National Guard soldiers. She, however, stressed that her family is thankful and fortunate to be able to communicate with her husband almost on a daily basis.
Co-Chair Pullin asked Ms. Otten to tell the committee a little bit more about her husband.
Ms. Otten told the committee that her husband is a logistics officer with Joint Support Operations and had been in the military for 22 years, 17.5 years of which were active service. She added that her husband serves with Task Force Cumberland, a unit made up primarily of officers whose mission is to train Afghan soldiers.
Ms. Otten stated that the protracted stress of the deployment process is very hard on military families. She added that the time soldiers spend away from their families causes many relationship difficulties when the soldiers come home. She stated that marriages have ended as a result of long deployments and other associated issues like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She pointed out that the lack of a strong family support system is adversely affecting military families. A more direct interaction with families will help mitigate problems military families face.
Co-Chair Pullin stated that she learned a lot from Ms. Otten’s testimony and thanked her. She asked if Ms. Otten is aware of the military family assistance legislation that was incorporated in the budget bill (HB 318) in the 2006 session. Co-Chair Pullin added that the General Assembly had attempted to institute family assistance programs and it would be helpful if they can get feedback on whether those they intend to help are benefiting.
Representative Floyd stated that he appreciated Ms. Otten’s testimony and would appreciate Representative Moore’s response to some of Ms. Otten’s concerns. Representative Floyd pointed out that in his experience, the military gives families a pre-deployment checklist with a whole lot of family considerations on it. He said that with the active duty military there is a family support structure in the communities where the soldiers are based. He added that when soldiers are deployed, what worries them most is the family back home.
Ms. Otten stated that they did not receive anything in the form of a pre-deployment packet until the day her husband was leaving, and even then, it was a whole bunch of papers.
Representative Pullin asked Ms. Otten whether she received any form of assistance while her husband was deployed or was made aware of the military family assistance trust fund. Ms. Otten stated that she received assistance only from church and family. She added that she heard about the military family assistance trust fund in the news a few days ago.
Co-Chair Pullin asked Ms. Otten if the information she got right before her husband’s deployment was from the Kentucky National Guard. Ms. Otten answered in the affirmative and added that the Guard has always been great and they have made great friends during her husband’s time with them. She added that as with everything, things can always be made better.
Co-Chair Pullin asked Ms. Otten if the information they received when her husband came back was also from the Kentucky National Guard. Ms. Otten stated that she did not receive any information from the Kentucky National Guard when her husband came back. She added that her husband received information when he was going through debriefing and anything she received came through the mail from the VA.
Representative Siler stated that he admired Ms. Otten’s courage to testify. He pointed out that some of the things Ms. Otten did not talk about also affect families. He said deployments are hard on families financially. He also stated that that deployment packets, dictated by individual soldier’s units should be provided to every family. He added that unit commanders should be very vigilant about the concerns of the families soldiers leave behind.
Senator Tori thanked Ms. Otten for speaking to the committee and stressed that it is important for everyone to realize the hardship families go through during the deployment process. She added that the committee believes that the Kentucky National Guard are the best and asked Ms. Otten to specify how the Kentucky National Guard soldiers were not treated well by the Florida Guard. Ms. Otten stated that she agrees the Kentucky National Guard is the best. The Florida Guard did not give the Kentucky Guard the respect due them in terms of work related issues.
Senator Tori asked Ms. Otten if she had any advice on how to improve relations between National Guards from different states. Ms. Otten stated that she had no idea how that could be changed, but she still feels that officers deserve to be treated with respect. She urged the Kentucky General Assembly to pass legislation that will exempt military pay from state income tax. She added that the nation owes a lot to its military.
Co-Chair Pullin stated that she might be interested in talking more to Ms. Otten later on about the financial difficulties faced by military families.
Both Co-Chairs thanked Ms. Otten for her testimony, and Co-Chair Pullin asked the audience to express its appreciation to Ms. Otten for her testimony.
Next to address the committee about military family benefits was Major General Donald C. Storm, Adjutant General, Kentucky National Guard. General Storm thanked the committee for inviting him to the meeting. He started by stating that the Kentucky government has been quite good the Kentucky National Guard. He thanked the Kentucky General Assembly and the Executive branch for all they have done for the soldiers. He added that he agreed with Ms. Otten that a tax exemption for military pay will help the soldiers and their families and also the state’s economy.
General Storm pointed out that the National Guard is unique in the sense that they have a dual mission to serve the Commonwealth and the nation. However, the Kentucky National Guard is the legislature’s responsibility, because the Kentucky National Guard’s main mission is to serve the state.
General Storm stated that the Military Family Assistance Trust Fund (MFAST) program was established April 26, 2007, and a board has been created to oversee it. The board has made progress in marketing the existence of the fund and expediting the processing of inquiries and claims. He introduced the MFAST board president Colonel Judy Greene-Baker to the committee. Her fellow board members elected her president. Other members of the board are Colonel James Russell, United States Army Reserve, Lieutenant Colonel Daryl Shirley, United States Army, Gunnery Sergeant James Taylor Jr., Marine Corps Reserve, and Roger Miller. He added that the Department of Military Affairs hired Captain Steven Engels on May 1, 2007, to manage the Trust Fund program on a daily basis and act as a liaison with the military services in the other branches.
General Storm told the committee that the board has met twice since its inception, and their next scheduled meeting is September 19, 2007. Administrative regulations for the program were filed with the Compiler on June 25, 2007. To date, the board has officially received and processed one application for a grant. He added that $500.00 was awarded to a Kentucky National Guard soldier from Providence, Kentucky on July 3, 2007. He noted that they were able to process that application in a week and their goal is to process qualifying claims as rapidly as possible. They have at least two more applications pending and had another case where they were able to fulfill the financial needs of a soldier from other funding sources.
General Storm stated that they anticipate many more applications as more people become aware of the program. He emphasized that they are doing everything they can to advertise the program and will also embark on a marketing strategy to promote the program. He noted that as of July 26, 2007, the trust fund balance is $1,010,232.12. The board has set the one time grant cap at $2,500.00 and the annual cap at $5,000.00. Exceptions will be subject to board approval. At this point, he has no recommendations to make to the committee with regard to the administration of the trust fund.
General Storm stated that survivors of qualifying National Guard and Reserve soldiers who die on federal active duty qualify for death benefits. He added that all members of Kentucky National Guard serving on state active duty also qualify for the death benefits. He told the committee that members of the regular military whose home of record is Kentucky are not eligible for state death benefits at anytime. He added that he did not know if that was the intent of the legislation that was passed in the 2006 session.
Co-Chair Pullin stated that the General Assembly’s intent at the time was to cover members of the National Guard and Reserve who were not covered by the federal death benefits. She added that if there is any unevenness now they would like to know about it so they can try to fix it.
General Storm stated that the National Guard soldiers are only covered for federal death benefits in instances where their death on federal active duty occurred outside of the continental United States. He added that the survivors of 15 out of the 61 soldiers Kentucky had lost in the war on terror have received death benefits from the state. He stressed that the rest are regular military, and so their survivors do not receive any death benefits from the state.
Co-Chair Pullin asked if the federal death benefits apply to National Guard, Reserve, and regular military soldiers only when they are activated nationally. General Storm stated that Reserve soldiers are covered in any circumstance as they always perform their active duties under a Title 10 federal active duty status. He pointed out that National Guard soldiers on active duty in the United States perform their duties in a Title 32 active duty status and are not covered under such circumstances.
General Storm stated that they began paying out $80,000.00 death benefits to survivors in January 2007. He said that when possible, he personally hand delivers the checks to the survivors on behalf of the legislature and the executive branch. He stated that to date, they have paid $1.44 million to 18 military families. He added that the majority of these soldiers and marines died between September 2003 and October 2006. He pointed out that the lapses in the payments were due to the delays caused by mitigating factors like investigations on the cause of death, line of duty determination, and getting the proper documents. He added that they have been very quick in handing out the payments once all the necessary legal documents were made available to them. He noted that one National Guard soldier’s family received their payment 26 days after the soldier’s death. He stated that in their estimation 30-60 days will be the normal processing time in death benefit claims.
General Storm stated he would like to bring one aspect of the statutes to the committee that deals with disbursement of benefits to survivors. He pointed out that the State Treasurer distributes the death benefits equally to qualifying survivors. He pointed out that when there is no surviving spouse and the children are under the age 18 years, the Treasurer is required by law to put $45,000.00 of the benefit in a trust fund until all the children reach the age of 18, and distribute $35,000.00 among the surviving children upfront. He stated that if there is a surviving spouse and surviving children, money is apportioned among all these survivors upfront. He proposed to work with the committee to clarify the legislation's intent.
General Storm stated that they have worked so hard on the Welcome Home Program. He added that there is no other issue that they have worked harder on than the Welcome Home Program. He pointed out that when it comes to taking care of soldiers and their families, they do it better than any other state or territory. He added that they grieve and pray with the soldiers and their families from day one.
General Storm told the committee that the Welcome Home process begins 90 days prior to the return of the soldiers. He said that the initial briefings with the deployed soldiers occur overseas. They also meet with the soldiers’ families at the Family Assistance Center in Frankfort and 50-plus family readiness groups across the state. He pointed out that he just took about 30 individuals, many of them spouses and parents of fallen soldiers, to a conference in Chicago. He stated that between 30-45 days prior to the soldiers’ return, his staff meet again with families to discuss specifics like VA entitlements and Tri-Care benefits.
General Storm told the committee that he personally meets 90 percent of returning soldiers at Mobility (MOB) processing stations before they have the Welcome Home ceremony. Welcome Home teams sent to MOB stations consist of Command representatives, Chaplains, Personnel, and Health services teams. He stressed that he personally met with CW3 Otten’s team at Camp Shelby. He added that he is currently recruiting more Chaplains to work with high-risk soldiers. He also told the committee that the National Guard has mobilized over 10,000 and deployed 8,700 so far.
General Storm told the committee that they conduct Welcome Home ceremonies in communities where units are based, and these are attended by government leaders, including legislators. He added that when soldiers return home, they are given the option of taking up to 90 days off from drill requirements, though many opt to return to the military right away. He stated that their Chaplains have developed a program called Warrior Refocus that helps soldiers who have elected to return right away to adjust to home life and to discuss deployment experiences. He said that all of these programs are a result of evolving situations.
General Storm told the committee that 90 days after the soldiers return they organize a ‘Freedom Salute’ celebration for the soldiers where they present them awards and complete their post deployment health risk assessments, which were initiated prior to their return. He added that they might have taken some full-time National Guard soldiers who work for the Department of Military Affairs for granted, but they work hard to make sure that does not happen. He noted that they are in the process of implementing and adopting other programs for the soldiers.
Co-Chair Pullin stated that she is delighted to hear about the new initiatives and programs being developed by the Department of Military Affairs, and she is looking forward to working with them to make things better.
Representative Moore stated that as someone who is currently undergoing deployment he can attest to the fact at first hand that there are challenges that families and soldiers face. He had a flat tire two days before he deployed; his air conditioner at home broke days ago; and his family is still without air. The Kentucky National Guard has always gone above and beyond to make sure that soldiers and families are cared for. Some of the stress is an inevitable part of deployment.
Co-Chair Pullin stated that the Kentucky Legislature has been making great efforts to do as much as they can and wants to continue doing that. She asked General Storm if he could address the committee at its next meeting.
Representative Baugh stated that he invited General Storm to speak at an organization in his district, and he could remember him leaving early to welcome home National Guard soldiers. He added that he is proud of what General Storm does.
General Storm stated that the sacrifices soldiers, sailors, airmen, and their families make are just unbelievable.
Senator McGaha said that he has witnessed General Storm’s compassion and wants to personally extend his sincere appreciation to him for the assistance that he has provided to one soldier’s family that he knows. He added that it may be impossible to do everything for everybody, but he does think that General Storm tries.
Senator Roeding stated that he was very touched by Ms. Otten’s testimony and that it is his personal belief that the General Assembly should do exactly what Ms. Otten said by finally passing the legislation exempting active military pay from state income tax. He said that by not passing the legislation, the credibility of the General Assembly has been affected among soldiers. This is an important issue, and the committee should add its weight to the ongoing meetings on what to put on a special session call. He added that the committee should send a resolution or a letter asking that the issue be placed on any possible or proposed call that is coming up. He also said that he would like to make that a motion.
Co-Chair Pullin stated that they could do that by a letter signed by both Co-Chairs and asked if that will be sufficient for Senator Roeding.
Senator Roeding stated that every member who wants this done ought to sign the letter. He added that it makes no difference to him whether it was done by letter or a resolution and urged that it be done as soon as possible.
Representative Riner asked General Storm to tell the committee what the implication will be if exemption of military pay from state income tax is not taken up during the special session. General Storm stated that it will certainly raise morale among the soldiers if taken up. He added that the longer the legislature waits the less positive the effect will be realized by those who have deployed and already came back.
Representative Moore stated that the tax exemption legislation was on the minds of many of the soldiers in Afghanistan when he got there.
Senator Tori expressed thanks to General Storm, Colonel Judy Greene-Baker, and Brigadier General (Ret) Julius Berthold.
The committee adopted a motion to write a letter recommending the exemption of military pay from state income tax that would be signed by all the members.
General Storm presented one of his personal coins to Scott Varland to show his appreciation for his service. He also presented Senator Tori with a Merit Award.
Co-Chair Pullin congratulated Senator Tori on her award.
Next to address the committee were Mr. Carlos Pugh and Mr. Larry Arnett, both representing the Joint Executive Council of Veterans Organizations (JECVO). Mr. Pugh told the committee that he had many veterans in attendance and gave the committee a statistical breakdown of veterans in the state. He said that the nursing homes in Hazard, Hanson, and Wilmore, Kentucky are all full, and many of the veterans in the state are getting to the age where they will need to be placed in nursing homes. He added that they are very concerned about the lack of beds in the nursing homes and would like the General Assembly to consider these and other issues facing veterans.
Mr. Arnett stated that JECVO represents more than 360, 000 veterans in the state. He thanked the committee and the Co-Chairs for their efforts on veterans issues. He added that the veteran service organizations have seven issues which they would like the General Assembly to address during the next legislative session.
The first issue Mr. Arnett stated is to adequately fund the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs (KDVA) so that they can fully implement their programs such as the expansion of nursing homes, completion and addition of veteran cemeteries, and other benefits programs. He pointed out that Commissioner Beavers reported that in this fiscal year, KDVA has a $2.2 million deficit.
The second issue is the expansion of the veterans’ nursing home in Hanson, Western Kentucky. Mr. Arnett stated that he has written a letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Senate President, and the Governor to request that the expansion of the nursing home in Western Kentucky be included in any proposed special session. He pointed out that the nursing home has been full for three years, and there are currently 74 veterans, most of them requiring special care on the waiting list. He added that veterans are currently dying at home waiting to get into the nursing homes.
The third issue is that JECVO wants veteran service organizations to have a line item in the KDVA budget that specifies the amount of money that will be going to them for their training contracts. He added that Kentucky receives nearly $500,000,000 in VA benefits annually through the efforts of veteran service organizations and KDVA.
Mr. Arnett pointed out that the fourth issue is that JECVO would like to see passage of veterans' preference in state hiring.
Mr. Arnett also stated that their fifth issue is the demand and need for a fourth nursing home in the Louisville metropolitan area, because it has a third of the state’s veteran population.
He added that JECVO has two more issues they would like to speak to the committee about later. These issues are: support for KDVA to assume fiduciary responsibilities for certain veterans and support for the expansion of the veterans’ nursing home in Western Kentucky.
Co-Chair Pullin thanked Mr. Pugh and Mr. Arnett for their testimony. She also thanked everyone in the audience for attending.
Representative Riggs stated that they do not determine what goes on the agenda for a special session. He pointed out that the Governor’s office determines what goes on the agenda.
Mr. Arnett agreed with Representative Riggs but noted that there will be some discussion among legislators of special session issues. He wants to bring the expansion of the Hanson nursing home to the attention of the legislators.
Co-Chair Pullin stated that a current year appropriation could also be done.
Representative Riner asked Mr. Arnett if he was aware of a class action lawsuit that was filed against the VA with regard to the backlog of veterans’ claims. Mr. Arnett stated that he was familiar with the issue but not the lawsuit and will get together with Representative Riner to get more information on it. Mr. Pugh stated that the KDVA in Louisville has a significant backlog of claims.
Representative Floyd thanked Representative Riggs for pointing out that the Governor decides the agenda for an extraordinary session. He moved for the committee to amend its earlier motion to include the expansion of the veterans’ nursing home in Western Kentucky in the letter to the Governor. He also asked if spouses of veterans are eligible for admission at veterans’ nursing homes. Mr. Arnett answered in the negative.
Co-Chair Pullin asked Senator Roeding if he would be amenable to changing the earlier motion to include the expansion of the veterans’ nursing home in Western Kentucky. Senator Roeding answered in the affirmative. He added that he would like to make sure that the leadership of both chambers receive a copy of the letter as well. The motion was amended and adopted.
Co-Chair Pullin thanked everyone for attending and encouraged them to keep in contact with members. She stated that we should not forget that our debt to veterans is not short lived. The will continue to emphasize veterans’ issues.
Co-Chair Pullin stated that there were two Executive Orders on the agenda: Executive Order 2007-453 relating to the Kentucky Intelligence Fusion Center and Executive Order 2007-499 abolishing the Division of Air Transportation in The Kentucky Department of Military Affairs and transferring the Division's responsibilities to the Transportation Cabinet. She told the committee that there were representatives from the executive branch in the audience who could answer questions about the executive orders. She pointed out that the Reorganization Plan for Executive Order 2007-453 states that there is no fiscal or personnel impact in the reorganization of the Fusion Center. She said that at a later time she would want more information on that point.
Co-Chair Pullin invited everyone to attend the reception in honor of Scott Varland after the meeting.
The meeting adjourned.