The3rd meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection was held on Thursday, September 10, 2009, at 1:00 PM, in the Louisville Regional VA Office. Senator Elizabeth Tori, 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, and Kathy W. Stein; Representatives Linda Belcher, Dwight D. Butler, Larry Clark, Tim Couch, Ron Crimm, Myron Dossett, Bill Farmer, Jeff Greer, Tim Moore, Rick G. Nelson, Fred Nesler, Tom Riner, Steven Rudy, Charles Siler, Dottie Sims, Ancel Smith, and Alecia Webb-Edgington.
Guests: Margaret Plattner, Deputy Commissioner, Pam Cypert, Executive Advisor for Field Operations and Women Veterans Coordinator, KY Department of Veterans Affairs; LTC TinaGay Riddle, KY Army National Guard; Mike Fairchild, Assistant Director, Louisville VA Regional Office; Valencia Martin, Latonia Trowell, Cleopatra Buckner, KY Air National Guard; Mary Broussard, Marine Corp League; Geoff Pinkerton, Office of State Budget Director; Alicia Sells, University of Louisville; Ron Wolf, City of Louisville; and Brent Kelly, KY National Guard.
LRC Staff: Erica Warren, CSA, Tiffany Opii, Clint Newman, and Rhonda Schierer.
Chair Tori welcomed members and asked for a motion to approve the minutes of the August meeting. Representative Rudy moved to approve the minutes. Representative Farmer seconded the motion to approve the minutes. The minutes were approved by a unanimous voice vote.
Chair Tori called on Erica Warren to read a committee resolution urging that the Veterans Administration to locate their proposed hospital for in-patient services in the hospital district in downtown Louisville, and that the Zorn Avenue location be used for out-patient services. Chair Tori asked for a motion be made on the resolution. Senator Clark moved to adopt the resolution. Representative Farmer seconded the motion. The resolution was adopted by a unanimous voice vote.
Chair Tori called on Margaret Plattner, Deputy Commissioner of Women Veterans Issues, and Pam Cypert, Executive Advisor for Field Operations and Women Veterans Coordinator, Kentucky Department of Veterans’ Affairs (KDVA). The committee was shown a movie clip from the “Lioness,” a documentary about the first generation of female combat veterans. Rep. Riner asked Deputy Plattner who did the synopsis of the film. Ms. Plattner stated that the synopsis was done by the New York Times. Deputy Plattner gave a brief historical overview of women in the military. She also shared an article titled, “G.I. Jane Breaks the Combat Barrier” which stated that more than 220,000 women have fought in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Sen. Gibson asked about the percentages of women that are in the military. Pam Cypert stated that the Air Force is 20 percent, the Navy is 15 percent, the Army is 14 percent, the Marine Corp is 11 percent, and the Guard and Reserve is 17 percent women.
Rep. Belcher asked about the legal process in the military for women and their protection when reporting an assault. Ms. Cypert stated that women can seek treatment without reporting a crime and then later when they are able, they can report that crime. She stated that it is easier to move the victim out of the unit than it is to take the appropriate action against the individual that committed the crime.
Rep. Webb-Edgington asked if it was correct to say that women in the military want to serve in combat but want training equal to that of male soldiers. Ms. Cypert stated that was correct and recommended that members see the entire documentary on the “Lioness” as it tells what women are experiencing and what congress needs to do. She added that women are literally asked to go on patrol without training. Co-Chair Pullin asked if service in combat tours affect promotion possibilities for women. Pam Cypert stated yes, one combat tour can make a difference.
Ms. Cypert briefed the committee members on health care, mental health care, benefits, homelessness, and things that elected representative and individuals in the Commonwealth can do to support women veterans. She discussed how VA hospitals are not equipped to handle women’s issues, domestic violence, rape, and many other medical issues that women veterans are facing and they do not have a good list of resources in the community shelters where women can go for domestic violence issues. Ms. Cypert added that because the law says that women will not be in direct combat roles, even though they are, they have a greater burden of proof. She stated that there is a bill in congress right now, HR 952 and it has passed the House and headed to the Senate which would fix the law for women veterans. Ms. Cypert stated that community based organizations are the best bet for women veterans who are in danger of being homeless and that the KDVA works with a network of shelters. Rep. Belcher asked if there is a list of shelters and if the committee members could get a copy of them. Ms. Cypert stated that there is a list of shelters and a book that she will get to the committee. Chair Tori asked that a list be prepared and placed in our folders for our next committee meeting. Rep. Clark asked if they had a website. Ms. Cypert stated that they do have a website and there is a list of shelters on it.
Sen. Clark expressed interest in HR 952 in Congress and that members should support it. Chair Tori stated that was an excellent idea and Rep. Larry Clark made a motion to have staff draft a resolution supporting the legislation in Washington. Rep. Moore stated that he would like to see the resolution before signing on and Chair Tori stated that staff would get a draft to all members before getting the resolution in final form.
Sen. Stein stated that in the past, she has noticed that when looking at minorities, there is not always complete cooperation in how their peers look at issues and asked if that is an issue for women veterans. Ms. Cypert stated that the VA is committed to do the right things for women veterans but women in certain areas are cared for more than others. Ms. Cypert stated the Lexington VA Medical Center is doing a spectacular job for women veterans.
Chair Tori recognized LTC TinaGay Riddle, Educational Services Officer (ESO) and Human Resources Equal Opportunity Officer (HREO), Kentucky National Guard, and thanked her for all she is doing. Chair Tori asked LTC Riddle, a combat veteran, to speak to the committee on her experience. LTC Riddle briefed the committee on her return from Dessert Storm. She stated that she was a retail manager and married before she left for Dessert Storm but when she returned home, she was given a lowly position, her marriage disintegrated, she was left with very little income, and suffered depression issues, sexual harassment, and even homelessness. LTC Riddle stated that she pressed on and paid for treatment and is still in the military. She stated that women veterans simply need to be evaluated, assessed, and treated. She announced a Kentucky Women’s Annual Experience, titled “Leaving No Soldier Behind” conference at the Lexington Hyatt Regency Convention Center on September 24-27, 2009.
Sen. Clark asked if Kentucky has a safety net to prevent combat veterans with mental health issues from filling up the prisons. Ms. Cypert stated that some states are doing fabulous and have trained first responders to help recognize combat veterans, and they have created a hotline and community provider pro bono for veterans. She stated that there is nothing like that in Kentucky currently.
Co-Chair Pullin stated that it is planned for the November meeting to thoroughly discuss mental health issues, veterans, men and women, and looking more deeply into what Kentucky does and what other states do to make improvements. Sen. Clark stated that it would be good to have first responders for mental health issues to come and tell the committee about their training. He also suggested checking to see if there is federal money available to teach our first responders. Co-Chair Pullin added that along with the work that will be done in November, the committee will be looking at issues that have been in the news about the increase in suicides among soldiers who have returned home from combat.
Rep. Webb-Edgington stated that the Criminal Justice training is currently required with KLE standards to have a 40 hour in-service and perhaps maybe they could consider having the Department of Criminal Justice training at the November meeting to have a better understanding of the mental health training. She suggested that training be a supplement to the required 40 hours which currently includes domestic violence, and HIV training.
Chair Tori called upon Mike Fairchild, Assistant Director for the Louisville VA Regional Office and thanked him for the meeting accommodations for the committee. Mr. Fairchild gave a brief overview of the two primary business lines they have which are the compensation and pension, and the vocational and rehabilitation, and that they administer compensation and pension, disability and benefits. He stated that the Louisville VA Regional Office is a part of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). He offered a tour of their office to members immediately upon adjournment.
Co-Chair Pullin announced that “The Wall That Heals” will be in Bowling Green, KY, on September 24-27, 2009. She added that there was an informational sheet in the meeting folders.
Chair Tori thanked members for coming and entertained a motion to adjourn. There being no further business, the meeting adjourned.