The5th meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection was held on Thursday, November 12, 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:Representative Tanya Pullin, Co-Chair; Senators Perry B. Clark, Carroll Gibson, Denise Harper Angel, Joey Pendleton, Kathy W. Stein, and Jack Westwood; Representatives Linda Belcher, Tom Burch, Dwight D. Butler, Mike Cherry, Larry Clark, Leslie Combs, Tim Couch, 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, Dottie Sims, Ancel Smith, and Alecia Webb-Edgington.
Guests: Col. John P. Cook, Hospital Commander, Fort Campbell; Adjutant General Edward Tonini, Captain Brian Combs, State Family Programs Director, Stephanie Fields, Health Services Coordinator, Sharon Allen, Director of Psychological Health, Captain Phil Major, Chaplaincy Core, Kentucky National Guard; Carlos Pugh, Past State Commander, Veterans of Foreign Wars; and Margaret Plattner, Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs.
LRC Staff: Erica Warren, CSA, Mustapha Jammeh, Tiffany Opii, Clint Newman, and Rhonda Schierer.
Chair Pullin welcomed members and asked for a motion to approve the minutes of the September meeting. Rep. Cherry moved to approve the minutes. Rep. Floyd seconded the motion. The September meeting minutes were approved by a unanimous voice vote. Chair Pullin asked for a motion to approve the minutes of the October meeting. Rep. Floyd moved to approve the minutes. Rep. Moore seconded the motion. The October meeting minutes were approved by a unanimous voice vote.
Chair Pullin called on Rep. Cherry and Rep. Lee to read resolutions for fallen soldiers, Specialist Kevin J. Graham and Staff Sergeant Edward B. Smith, who lost their lives in the Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi freedom, respectively. She asked the committee to stand in a moment of silence in the honor of the fallen soldiers. The resolutions were unanimously adopted by a voice vote. Chair Pullin asked for a motion to be made on the committee resolution expressing the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection’s support for recognition of women veterans’ combat experience. Rep. Belcher move to adopt the resolution. Rep. Combs seconded the motion. The resolution was adopted unanimously by a voice vote.
Chair Pullin called on Col. John P. Cook, Hospital Commander at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Col. Cook stated that the mission at the Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, (BACH) in Fort Campbell is to deliver quality healthcare and to promote wellness for the military community while supporting medical readiness through trained personnel in a safe work environment. Col. Cook stated that their Warrior Transition Battalions (WTB), have averaged 400 soldiers within the past several months. Col. Cook added that the WTB expects to expand in numbers between 600 and 700 due to the upcoming deployments of the soldiers between the 101st Airborne Division during 2010. The warriors living in the WTB barracks reside in the best barracks on the installation with handicap and accessible rooms available. Col. Cook stated that they also have a wonderful community support base that continuously offers superb benefits such as free community events, tickets, dinners, and family-oriented functions for the wounded soldiers. Col. Cook stated that 13 soldiers have graduated with a Bachelor’s degree since the WTB’s inception. Col. Cook stated that the WTB helps soldiers participate in their roles in the army while dealing with physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and family needs. In addition to the WTB, BACH houses one of the premier treatment programs for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) within the army. Soldiers from the Kentucky National Guard or Reserve have the benefit of treatment in this 12-week program. Over 700 soldiers have gone through the program with a 77 percent return to duty rate for those who complete the program. Col. Cook stated that the TBI program uses a multi-disciplinary program in their approach including occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech and language pathology, mental health services, sleep medicine, neurology, and primary care. Col. Cook stated that BACH has added 50 behavioral health support positions to help meet the increased demand. BACH has 7 resiliency teams which are made up of specialty services to include chaplains, chaplain assistants, clinical psychologist, social psychologists, social workers, psychologists, primary care providers, and behavior health technicians. Chair Pullin noted that the Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee toured the WTB and BACH in 2007 and members were impressed with the facility.
Sen. Pendleton thanked Col. Cook for all they do and expressed his concerns for the soldiers who return home with mental health issues and asked Col. Cook how much room is available at Fort Campbell to take care of those soldiers. Col. Cook stated that although they have an extensive process to identify these soldiers and get them help as soon as possible they do not have inpatient capabilities. He added that they do use multiple inpatient organizations off post.
Rep. Burch asked Col. Cook if their programs encourage soldiers to seek help without retribution in their careers. Col. Cook stated that during advanced individual training, soldiers are brought into a culture that is encouraged to ask questions and seek help when needed. He added that in recent years past, the chain of command in the army is making huge strides in breaking down the cultural barrier that in the past would have prevented a soldier from coming forward for help.
Rep. Belcher asked Col. Cook if they only treat wounded soldiers stationed at Ft. Campbell or if others are treated from different parts of the state and country. Col. Cook stated that they do treat soldiers that are not stationed at Ft. Campbell and also try to assist in getting them relocated as close to their stationed area as possible.
Chair Pullin asked Col. Cook if soldiers that have traumatic brain injuries are more likely to be patients in the hospital on post. Col. Cook said yes. Chair Pullin stated that she felt it would be good if the state first responders could ask soldiers when they first pick them up if they have been in combat. She added that if they have been in combat, first responders need have a quick and easy place to send them for help immediately. Chair Pullin asked Col. Cook if he felt it would be helpful if that became a process in Kentucky. Col. Cook stated that it sounded like a reasonable approach for soldiers. Col. Cook stated that he would encourage some sort of dialogue between first responders and folks on post.
Rep. Moore asked Col. Cook if the soldiers at the WTB are only soldiers that have returned from deployment or if there are also those who are injured in training exercises in preparation for deployment. Col. Cook stated that of the 400 in the WTB, the majority are from combat but there are soldiers that have gotten hurt in training as well. Rep. Moore expressed the need to always ensure that a soldier gets the highest level of care possible.
Sen. Gibson asked Col. Cook if there have been any records of comparisons done of the particular behaviors between current wars and the Vietnam conflict. Col. Cook stated that he was not aware of any comparisons but he believes that we currently have much more care going into a soldier’s mental, physical, and emotional resiliency than ever before.
Rep. Dossett asked Col. Cook if there are support groups at Fort Campbell that are staffed by either active duty or retired military personnel that have seen combat. Col. Cook said that they regularly have people come in and talk to groups like amputees or burn victims and through the health program.
Chair Pullin called on General Tonini. General Tonini started by stating his and the Kentucky National Guards gratitude to the committee members for what they do for men and women in uniform. He presented members with the new acrylic paper weight containing the Kentucky Joint Service Badge that recognizes individuals for the outstanding service that they provide. Gen. Tonini gave the history of the badge details. He added that this acrylic paperweight was of no expense to the federal government or the Commonwealth. Chair Pullin thanked Gen. Tonini and the National Guard on behalf of the entire committee.
General Tonini spoke to the committee on the care of soldiers and airmen. Gen. Tonini introduced Captain Brian Combs, State Family Program Director; Captain Stephanie Fields, Health Services Coordinator, and Captain Phil Major with the Chaplaincy Corps.
Cpt. Brian Combs briefed the committee on the Family Programs and the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program (YRRP). Cpt. Combs stated that the mission of these programs is to provide family support services to all Kentucky National Guard service members and to all branches of the military service. He stated that pre-9/11 staff consisted of 1 federal employee while post-9/11 consists of 8 federal employees and 31 contract employees at an annual cost of $2.2 million. Cpt. Combs stated that the Family Assistance Center is the first 24/7 outreach in Kentucky where family members or soldiers in any branch of military service can receive a support network. Cpt. Combs discussed the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program which is tied hand-in-hand with the Family Assistance Center. The YRRP is literally focused on the mobilized soldier and family and is a federally mandated program that is used to address pre-, during, and post-mobilization.
Chair Pullin asked Cpt. Combs where the two family readiness centers are located. Cpt. Combs stated that the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Western Kentucky and Campbellsville and added that there are also family assistance center representatives in southeastern Kentucky, northeastern Kentucky, Louisville, and in Glasgow.
Chair Pullin called on Cpt. Stephanie Fields, the Health Services Coordinator for the Kentucky National Guard. She stated that their mission is to provide quality, innovative health care to meet the needs of each and every soldier. She stated that pre 9/11 they had 3 federal employees and post-9/11 they have increased in size to 11 federal employees. She stated that the health services section is responsible for the Kentucky guard soldiers’ medical well-being from the time they enlist into the guard until the time that they transition out. Cpt. Fields stated that the four main health service programs are the post-deployment health reassessment, physiological health, medical retention processing, and the incapacitation pay.
Chair Pullin called on Chaplain Phil Majcher. Chaplain Majcher stated that their primary mission is to nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the dead. He added that they provide religious support across denominations and across faith groups, and provide personal counseling to soldiers. He added that they are a pre-9/11 organization still going strong. Currently Kentucky is over 100 percent staffed on Chaplains. He discussed the marriage enrichment events, single soldier event, and 7 habits for highly effective families programs. Gen. Tonini added that they have also developed relationships with a myriad of private agencies that also have the same purpose in mind to help the individual soldiers.
Rep. Lee expressed his concern for soldiers who have been called to several deployments and have lost their jobs at home for lack of keeping up with trainings or other reasons. Gen. Tonini stated that there have been incidents where the soldier returns and the company no longer exist; but that the state Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) organization provides soldiers with an ombudsman who will bring a representative to the soldier or a mediator to the employee.
Chair Pullin called on Carlos Pugh, Past State Commander, Veterans of Foreign Wars, of Kentucky. Mr. Pugh stated that he speaks to various VFW posts and American Legion posts within the state. He stated that there are 112 VFW posts in Kentucky. Mr. Pugh stated that he sees a problem with communication between the hospitals and clinics in getting the word out to the soldiers of programs available to them. He stated that there is a need to have better coordination between the reserves, guard, and active duty people. Mr. Pugh stated that he works day and night and at the VFW posts to get soldiers connected to the correct place for help and he still needs help. Chair Pullin thanked Mr. Pugh for all of his hard work and dedication.
Rep. Nesler commented that he is grateful to hear good things about the Louisville and Lexington VA hospitals but is concerned that he continues to hear negative news about the VA medical center and hospital in Marion, Illinois, where our veterans from the western part of the state go. Chair Pullin suggested that as long as they serve Kentucky veterans, she would work with Rep. Nesler to possibly have a representative from the facility to appear before the committee. Mr. Pugh stated that at each JECVO meeting, they try to have the directors of the Marion, Illinois, Louisville and Lexington, VA hospitals provide reports.
Rep. Nelson thanked Mr. Pugh for his straight talk and thanked him for all he does for the veterans.
There being no further business, the meeting adjourned.