Call to Order and Roll Call
The1st meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection was held on Thursday, August 12, 2010, 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, Carroll Gibson, Denise Harper Angel, Vernie McGaha, Joey Pendleton, Kathy W. Stein, and Jack Westwood; Representatives Linda Belcher, Tom Burch, Dwight D. Butler, Mike Cherry, Leslie Combs, Tim Couch, Ron Crimm, Robert R. Damron, Myron Dossett, David Floyd, Jimmie Lee, Tim Moore, Fred Nesler, Tom Riner, Carl Rollins II, Steven Rudy, Sal Santoro, Charles Siler, Dottie Sims, John Tilley, and Alecia Webb-Edgington.
Guests: Brigadier General Mike Richie, Assistant Adjutant General-Army, Col. (Ret.) Mike Jones, Executive Director, Kentucky Department of Military Affairs; Margaret Plattner, Deputy Commissioner, Jeff Acob, Staff Assistant, Paul Hartless, Executive Adviser, Shaun McKiernan, Fiscal/Budget Manager, Alan Workman, Internal Policy Analyst, Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs; Bob Morey, Facility Planner, Robley Rex VA Medical Center; Carlos Pugh, JECVO.
Senators Clark and Tori, and Representatives Tilley, Webb-Edgington, Belcher, Moore, Santoro, and Floyd read resolutions for fallen soldiers: Staff Sgt. James P. Hunter, Private First Class Russell E. Madden, Sergeant First Class Kristopher D. Chapleau, Private First Class Michael S. Pridham, Private First Class Nathaniel D. Garvin, Lance Corporal Adam Puckett, Corporal Harry J. Reeve, and Staff Sergeant Christopher T. Stout. A motion was made and seconded to adopt the resolutions, and they were unanimously adopted.
Robley Rex (Louisville) Veterans Affairs Medical Center Update
Bob Morey, Facility Planner, gave a brief update on the ongoing process for the future location of Robley Rex VA Medical Center. Mr. Morey stated that the Veterans’ Affairs Chief of Staff and the Secretary for Health Operation Management recently toured the current facility, the downtown university location, and surrounding areas to determine the best site. In April, 2010, an advertisement seeking expressions of interest to acquire a site for the construction of a veterans’ medical center was posted in the Louisville Courier-Journal for two weeks with a large number of responses. During May, 2010, a site selection board toured 20 possible sites in response to the advertisement, and has since submitted a site selection report with recommendations to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. That report is currently in the concurrence process. It is anticipated that once approval is given on the greenfield site options, meaning sites without prior construction or use, it will take approximately a year for the due diligence process for those sites.
In response to a question from Senator Gibson, Mr. Morey said that the original evaluation for the project was in 2004, and the process has taken other veterans’ hospitals approximately ten years for completion. It is projected that, over the next 20 years, there will be a 48 percent increase in veterans served in Kentucky veteran facilities. In response to a question from Chair Pullin, Mr. Morey stated that the next step committee members should watch for is the site selection for the greenfield sites.
Kentucky Department of Military Affairs Update
Brigadier General Mike Richie, Assistant Adjutant General-Army, and Col. (Ret.) Mike Jones, Executive Director, Office of Management and Administration, gave an update on the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs and provided a power point presentation. General Richie stated that the Kentucky Army National Guard has 7,266 soldiers, and the Kentucky Air National Guard has 1,206 soldiers. These components have dual capabilities including transportation and truck, medical, engineer, and military police assets with the Army National guard and airlift, medical assets, and a special tactics squadron in the Air National Guard. The unique thing about the National Guard structure is how it supports both the war on terrorism and disasters in Kentucky, among other missions. Agribusiness Development Teams are unique to the National Guard. They are a small team that is responsible for teaching Afghanistan farmers how to farm and market their products to improve and sustain their quality of life. A new civil support team will provide on-site intervention and clean-up in the event of a radiological chemical attack in the United States and will be fully functional in 2012.
There are 53 armories and one airbase in 49 counties. There are two training sites in Kentucky: the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Kentucky, and the Harold L. Disney Training Center in Artemus, Kentucky. Challenges the National Guard is facing include frequent deployments, citizen-soldier turned active duty resource, and family and financial stress. There are Department of Defense programs available to assist, such as the Family Relief Assistance Program, National Guard Resilience Program, and the Suicide Prevention Program. Community support for the Guard includes Veterans Affairs and local medical facilities. Kentucky programs to help with issues are the veterans preference in employment opportunities, TRICARE supplement insurance, military pay income tax exemption, and the Military Family Assistance Trust Fund.
In response to Senator Tori’s question, General Richie stated that there are 460 troops deployed around the world. In response to Representative Burch’s expressed concern for soldiers’ pay and stability for their families, Adjutant General Richie replied that when soldiers return home from being deployed, most employers are willing to support the families. He gave the committee a 24 hour family emergency assistance toll free number to provide to constituents. In response to Representative Farmer’s question on the effect of federal level cuts to the budget, General Richie stated that the National Guard will operate with fewer people and less equipment. In response to Representative Damron’s question, the funding has not affected the program for honoring heroes. The program “We Will Not Forget” provides services every year.
Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs Update
Margaret Plattner, Deputy Commissioner, apologized for Commissioner Ken Lucas’s absence by explaining that he was recovering from surgery and introduced several staff member from the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs who would update the committee.
Allen Workman, Internal Policy Analyst for the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, discussed the three veterans centers in Kentucky. He testified about the number of residents and employees at each facility and the number of veterans on the waiting list at each. Mr. Workman also described the capital projects, including the Western Kentucky Veterans Center’s 36-bed expansion and a fourth veterans center to be built in Hardin County.
Jeff Acob, Staff Assistant for the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, gave a brief update on the on Kentucky veteran’s cemeteries, including when each opened and how many interments each has had. Mr. Acob described the new and fourth cemetery, the Kentucky Veterans Cemetery Northeast in Greenup County, and indicated that the estimated date of completion will be August 21, 2010. The dedication ceremony will be on September 10, 2010. Committee members are invited to attend. Through the Burial Honors Stipend Program, the KDVA paid out $117,120 for honors in FY 10. So far for FY 11, the KDVA has paid out $12,575. Representative Damron expressed how important the Burial Honors Program is to the families of the veterans. In response to Representative Lee’s question pertaining to special needs children having a spot at the veterans’ cemeteries, Mr. Acob explained that a special needs child can be buried in the cemetery along with the veteran and widow as long as the special needs has been documented and established for the child prior to age 18.
Paul Hartless, the Executive Advisor of Field Operations for the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, stated that his office tries to help veterans and their families in filing all claims from the time of the veteran’s discharge to the date of burial. There are 18 field representatives located throughout the state, four regional administrators, and one administrative employee. There have been significant increases in the number of claims for benefits in the past year for disabilities and enrollment into the VA healthcare system. Fort Knox and Fort Campbell have a field operations branch to assist soldiers who are filing claims in the process of getting out of the military. Field Operations also helps at the Soldier Family and Assistance Center, Warrior Transition Unit, retiree services, casualty assistance, and community-based outpatient clinics. Representative Damron stated that a small investment from the state for benefits officers yields great returns for the economy and great services to the veterans.
Shaun McKiernan, the Fiscal/Budget Manager for the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs, gave a brief overview of its budget. KDVA’s overall spending budget is $43.8 million, and most of that money is for personnel. The administration is expecting an additional $673,800 cut for this fiscal year. To address this expected cut, they are reducing vehicles in the motor pool, delaying filling key positions, and reducing several programs. The General Assembly provided $100,000 per year for the Veterans Service Organizations, the Acquired Brain Injury Alliance, and the Epilepsy Foundation Program. Additional federal money is supporting the programs, but additional cuts could impact services.
Chair Pullin announced that the committee would send a get well card to Commissioner Lucas.
There being no further business, the meeting adjourned.