The2nd meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection was held on Thursday, August 13, 2009, at 1:00 PM, in Room 154 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 Perry B. Clark, Julie Denton, Carroll Gibson, Denise Harper Angel, Vernie McGaha, Joey Pendleton, Jack Westwood, and Ken Winters; Representatives Tom Burch, Mike Cherry, Larry Clark, Leslie Combs, Tim Couch, Ron Crimm, Robert R. Damron, Myron Dossett, David Floyd, Jeff Greer, Jimmie Lee, Tim Moore, Rick G. Nelson, Fred Nesler, Sannie Overly, Tom Riner, Carl Rollins II, Steven Rudy, Sal Santoro, Charles Siler, Dottie Sims, Ancel Smith, John Tilley, and Alecia Webb-Edgington.
Guests: Adjutant General Edward W. Tonini, Steven Bullard, Kentucky National Guard; Commissioner Ken Lucas, Deputy Commissioner Margaret S. Plattner, David Worely, Jeff Acob, Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs; Carlos Pugh, JECVO; Commander Shedrick, J. Jones, Sr. & Donald Chaves, NABVETS; John O. Marsh, VFW 4075; Don Dixon, JECVO; and Eric Clark, KAHCF.
LRC Staff: Erica Warren, CSA, Mustapha Jammeh, Tiffany Opii, Clint Newman, Frances Jordan, and Rhonda Schierer.
Chair Pullin requested an amendment to the July meeting minutes. The correction was noted and there being no additional changes, a motion was made to approve the minutes as amended. The motion was seconded and the minutes were approved as amended by a unanimous voice vote.
Chair Pullin announced that the VMAPP September meeting will be in Louisville and the October the meeting will be in Western KY.
Chair Pullin welcomed Major General Edward W. Tonini. Gen. Tonini spoke to the committee about the Kentucky National Guard, the Post 911 GI Bill, and a brief legislative agenda. General Tonini discussed the year’s events. He stated that they have proudly continued their strong tradition of community support for response to the winter storm, flooding, and tornado events and have just completed pandemic influenza and Midway College Terrorism Response Exercise. He discussed the deployment of Kentucky’s first Afghanistan Agribusiness Development Team which is composed of 64 soldiers and airmen. The Agribusiness Development Team’s mission is to teach the citizens of Afghanistan to be agriculturally self-sufficient and develop their agricultural marketplace. The Kentucky Agribusiness Development Team will fall under the umbrella of Brigadier General Lonnie Culver, Commander of Joint Task Force Cyclone, who will oversee 4,000 troops in 4 provinces in Afghanistan. Gen. Tonini stated that to date, the Kentucky National Guard has mobilized nearly 14,000 soldiers and airmen and deployed almost 12,000 of them since 9/11. Gen. Tonini stated that he is scheduled to travel to Iraq to visit 4 units that are deployed there.
Gen. Tonini stated that at the beginning of the Federal Fiscal Year, October 1st, the Kentucky National Guard will gain 78 full time hires. Gen. Tonini stated that he would be happy to speak to any or all of the committee members regarding their state and national missions.
Gen. Tonini reviewed the GI Bill which grants higher education benefits to veterans involved in post 9-11 conflicts. He stated that the federal government expects to spend $78 billion on this program over the next decade. The VA is charged with the administration of the program and has issued its first payments to colleges and universities on August 1, 2009. He added that it is estimated that the bill will help a quarter million veterans attend colleges and universities by 2011, but that it is a complicated benefit with numerous variables to consider. He stated that he is not yet prepared to answer all of the potential questions of how it affects the National guard Tuition Assistance Program, but he would like to come back with more detailed analysis in the near future.
Rep. Floyd asked what percent of the 2,000 guard and air guard are full-time. Gen. Tonini stated 25 % are full time.
Rep. Burch asked if there are exemptions in the bill for disabled soldiers who were in combat for a short period of time and if so, would they receive full benefits. Gen. Tonini stated that anyone who is disabled by virtue of the period of time will be eligible for full benefits if they have served at least 30 contiguous days on active duty.
Co Chair Tori asked about recruiting efforts. Gen. Tonini responded that they are at 100 %.
Rep. Moore asked about guard members’ benefits being transferable to spouses and children. Gen. Tonini stated that it would be conditional and one would have to look at all the nuances.
Rep. Siler asked about school contributions relative to the GI Bill and the variance between how much each school contributes. Gen. Tonini said that is a very complex issue but one can go to any school including private or web-based learning programs. Chair Pullin added that committee staff could get a more detailed piece of information if that would be acceptable to Rep. Siler. Rep. Siler agreed.
Gen. Tonini went over the legislative agenda for the 2010 legislative session. He briefed the committee on the state tuition program and said he will discuss it more thoroughly at the October meeting. He spoke on the Military Family Assistance Trust Fund and stated that they will renew their support for legislation proposed last year that relaxes restrictions on the MFAST usage year to give more flexibility for soldiers to qualify for funds for a longer period of time when they return home. He added that they have found that when soldiers come back from war, the first 60-90 days does not cover the most critical period that soldiers go through and they would like to see it extended. Also they would like to make it available to units to afford coming home in-between deployments. Gen. Tonini stated that at the request of the Personnel Cabinet, they are working with Sen. Tori to clarify KRS 61.394 which specifies that they have 15 working days vs. 21 days for annual military leave for state employees. He stated that previously soldiers did their annual training and thus were given time off by the state during a confined 2 week period but that now it is it is done a few days at a time all year long and that is why they are asking for the law to be changed to reflect the federal law. Gen. Tonini stated that they have minor legislation such as bicentennial legislation for the War of 1812 and noted that 63% of all of the soldiers that were killed in that war were from Kentucky. Also, Gen. Tonini noted that 150th Anniversary of the Civil War is rapidly approaching and they would like for the General Assembly to consider a commission for that as well.
Gen. Tonini stated that there will be much more targeted information at the Wendell Ford Training Center and more specific answers to a full range of their legislative priorities.
Chair Pullin welcomed Carlos Pugh of the Joint Executive Council of Veterans Organization (JECVO). Mr. Pugh introduced Conrad John Toy, a Pearl Harbor survivor originally from Mt. Sterling, Kentucky. Mr. Pugh stated that JECVO covers about 25 organizations which cover 340,000 veterans from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. He added that they are proposing the merit hiring bill in 2010, adding that is no money attached to it and it only pertains to veterans of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Rep. Cherry commented that he has sponsored that bill previously and that it will be prefilled again. He also stated that the Personnel Cabinet is already implementing the policy by executive order, but expressed the importance of getting it into a statute.
Mr. Pugh stated that their second legislative priority is the bingo pull tab machine at veterans’ service organizations. He added that it is a legal machine now, but they can only use it during the hours of bingo. They would like to use the machine during all hours of the operation of the post. At present, they can only use the pull tab machine for 4 hours. He added that 40% of the money from the pull tabs goes back into the community.
Mr. Pugh added that the third legislative priority is the video game machines in the VFW post. He presented the members information in their folders of detailed information on video game machines. He ended by stating that they support fully funding Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs (KDVA) which includes the veterans’ cemeteries and nursing homes. Chair Pullin stated that the Veterans Cemetery North East ground breaking ceremony will be September 18 and she invited all committee members to attend.
Chair Pullin called on the representative from the National Association for Black Veterans (NABVETS) to introduce themselves and that the committee looked forward to hearing from them. Commander Shedrick Jones, Sr., State Commander for the NABVETS in Kentucky introduced himself and Donald Chaves who is a volunteer and Sergeant At Arms. Commander Jones stated that NABVETS came into Kentucky in October of 2008. He stated that their target is to have a minimum of 12 chapters across Kentucky. Commander Jones discussed the differences between NABVETS and other VSO’s. He added that one of their initiatives in Jefferson County is called Lights of Honor. They try to identify areas such as bus stops that do not have street lights. He added that unincorporated areas do not fall under the city of Louisville’s budget. Those areas have to pay out of pocket to get a street lights and NABVETS dedicates every light that is placed in honor of a deceased veteran. They have participated in back to school programs and many other community activities. NABVETS have 60 chapters around the United States. It was organized in 1969 and approved by the Department of Defense in 1973. Commander Jones stated that NABVETS would like to have support to build a veterans seniors high-rise in Jefferson County and also an official homecoming for Vietnam veterans. He added that they have concerns for senior veterans who are not equipped to go online to get the help they need.
Co-Chair Tori asked what their current membership is. Commander Jones stated that there are 63 members. Senator Tori asked if there are any other organizations set up in Kentucky other than Jefferson County. Commander Jones stated that there is one in Middlesboro which was the first chapter in Kentucky. Co-Chair Tori stated that it would be nice for them to come back again in the future and tell the committee about their growth and about their sources of income. Commander Jones stated that they are completely self supportive through donations and fund raisers.
Chair Pullin called on the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs. Commissioner Ken Lucas introduced himself and introduced Margaret Plattner, Deputy Commissioner and David Worley, Veterans Nursing Home Director. Commissioner Lucas discussed the KDVA’s mission to support Kentucky’s veterans. He stated that the universities around the state are gearing up for a special department setup for the returning veterans. He said that despite the budget cuts they are going to see that veterans get the benefits that they deserve.
Deputy Commission Margaret Plattner briefly spoke on legislative priorities. She stated that their highest priority is the veterans preference bill. They are hoping to have up to 5 veterans interviewed for each state employment position. She stated that KDVA is also interested in legislation for a conservator program. A conservator would be appointed by a judge to manage the financial affairs of a veteran who is not able to do so alone. She added that other states have this type program and they would like to model themselves accordingly. The third legislative priority is the disabled veterans’ license plates. She stated that currently veterans are limited to 2 license plates and they want them to be allowed as many as they need.
David Worley briefed the committee on federally run Community Based Out-patient Clinics (CBOC). He stated that CBOCs that have opened up in Kentucky include ones in Mayfield, Carrollton, and recently in Hopkinsville. There are over 20 CBOCs located in Kentucky at this time to help prevent veterans from having to drive to the VA hospitals. David Worley touched on the H1N1 virus and stated that they are staying abreast on the issue but have not had a major issue in the nursing homes. Mr. Worley stated that on August 22nd, the Thompson-Hood Veterans Center will have a veteran appreciation day and all veterans are welcome to a free lunch and an opportunity to spend time with other veterans there. He added that on September 11, 12, & 13th, the Vietnam traveling wall will be at the nursing home in Hazard.
Jeff Acob, KDVA Cemeteries Director, gave a brief update on the new cemetery in Greenup County.
Rep. Floyd asked Deputy Commissioner Plattner about conservators and specifically who would be managing the affairs of the veterans. She stated that they have an attorney that would appoint the conservators. Commissioner Lucas stated that if KDVA is appointed the conservator the very minimum would be taken from the veteran for services they provide.
Rep. Crimm asked about the status on the new VA hospital in Louisville. Commissioner Lucas stated that there are 3 different alternative locations being considered, to stay at Zorn Avenue with inpatient and outpatient, to go downtown with the whole operation adjacent to the University of Louisville and other hospitals, or to go downtown with the inpatient part and the outpatient would remain at Zorn Avenue or be elsewhere. Commissioner Lucas stated that he felt that it would be best to have inpatient care downtown with all the other hospitals where there is special equipment available, and to leave the outpatient care at Zorn Avenue since there are 8 or 10 times more outpatient services needed and that location has easier parking. Rep. Crimm agreed. Rep. Burch also agreed with having outpatient at the Zorn Avenue location.
Rep. Cherry stated since members of the committee from Louisville are in agreement about the VA hospital options, committee staff should prepare a resolution from the committee to propose that it be done. Chair Pullin stated that the committee will be meeting in Louisville in September and that would be a good time for staff to have that resolution prepared so that the committee can approve it while meeting on veterans issues.
Chair Pullin announced there will be out of town meetings in September and October for our committee.
There being no further business, the meeting adjourned.