Call to Order and Roll Call
The1st meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection was held on Thursday, July 9, 2015, at 1:00 PM, in Room 154 of the Capitol Annex. Representative Will Coursey, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Albert Robinson, Co-Chair; Representative Will Coursey, Co-Chair; Senators C.B. Embry Jr., Carroll Gibson, Ernie Harris, Christian McDaniel, Dennis Parrett, Whitney Westerfield, and Max Wise; Representatives Regina Bunch, Tom Burch, Denver Butler, Larry Clark, Ron Crimm, Myron Dossett, Jim Gooch Jr., Jeff Greer, Kenny Imes, Martha Jane King, Donna Mayfield, Terry Mills, Tim Moore, Rick G. Nelson, Tom Riner, Rita Smart, John Tilley, and Russell Webber.
Guests: Jim Simms, Executive Director, MAJ John Harvey, President, and Brig. Gen. Steve Bullard, Legislative Liaison, National Guard Association of Kentucky; Chuck Reed, President, and Jim Smith, Member, Board of Directors, Kentucky Wounded Heroes; and (Ret.) Col. Dave Thompson, Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs.
LRC Staff: Erica Warren, Kristopher Shera, Jessica Zeh, and Rhonda Schierer.
National Guard Association of Kentucky
Mr. Simms and MAJ John Harvey gave a PowerPoint presentation. Mr. Simms stated that the National Guard Association of Kentucky (NGAKY) is the professional organization of current and retired officers of the Kentucky National Guard (KYNG), affiliated with the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS), the nation’s oldest military association. NGAKY is a volunteer, non-profit, non-partisan association, with a primary mission to advocate the interests of current and retired soldiers and airmen, as well as families and their employers, and ensure that the KYNG has sufficient resources and budget to carry out its mission, and provide modern equipment, training and personnel benefits. NGAKY achieves its mission through its lobbying and legislative activities. NGAKY provides members with specific insurance benefits that provide immediate support to families. NGAKY is operated by a board of directors, five elected positions, 27 members, and five staff, and represents over 7,500 soldiers, airmen, and retired personnel. Officers in KYNG are eligible to become members of both NGAKY and NGAUS.
Mr. Simms stated that the Kentucky National Guard Historical Foundation (KNGHF), which is affiliated with NGAKY, is a non-profit sister organization that maintains a library of military documents and provides scholarships to children of current and former members of the Kentucky Army and Air National Guard.
Mr. Simms said that NGAUS has been in existence since 1878 and is a private organization that is permitted to lobby Congress on behalf of its 45,000 members. The National Guard Memorial is the NGAUS headquarters, which serves as a perfect location to facilitate lobby efforts by NGAUS and state association delegations to achieve legislation that enhances National Guard capabilities, unit readiness and quality-of-life for its personnel and families.
MAJ Harvey thanked members for the long list of military-related legislative accomplishments including Kentucky’s military income tax exemption, Military Family Assistance Trust Fund, the Kentucky National Guard Adoption Benefit Program, the Kentucky Code of Military Justice, the Kentucky National Guard Tuition Assistance Program, the new state-operated Morale-Welfare-Recreation program, and the streamlining ability to do business with federal agencies and civilian companies.
MAJ Harvey shared the NGAKY legislative priorities with the committee. He discussed the importance of protecting the Kentucky National Guard Tuition Assistance Plan. He stated that the plan helps maintain 100 percent manning, is a great incentive for Kentuckians to remain in Kentucky at an increased educational level, it fills the gap where National Guard soldiers and airmen do not qualify for federal military service tuition programs, there are 1,000 applicants per semester, and fewer deployments mean more soldiers and airmen are available to take classes, maxing out available funds. The newest soldiers and airmen are far less likely to qualify for Post 9-11 GI bill eligibility.
MAJ Harvey discussed the Kentucky National Guard Youth Challenge program and the changes required to comply with SB 97, the “dropout” legislation. He stated that the program is highly effective preventive, not remedial, at-risk youth program, targeting participants failing to progress towards a high school degree, 16-18 years of age. SB 97 raised the compulsory attendance age to 18. The change brought unintended consequences of putting the Harlan and Hardin Youth Challenge Campuses out of business if there is no associated accommodation to the status of their unique students who are coded as W25 (dropout). This was not the intent of the bill. Governor Beshear has directed the DMA and KDE to find a resolution. Limiting the program to students 18 or older is not a good option for Kentucky because the available student base is small at age 18 or older and these students need help at a younger age. Recoding students in Youth Challenge programs to permit attendance, for example, by potentially creating a new Department of Defense (DOD) code seems to be the easiest and best solution.
MAJ Harvey discussed a minor change to the 2015 MWR legislation stating that the NGAK would like to add DOD military and civilian personnel performing duty in the Commonwealth to the eligibility list. This would allow all personnel on temporary duty at Kentucky installations, including the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, to utilize the program. NGAKY would also like for the law to clarify and state that donations are accepted.
The NGAUS federal priorities are to enhance domestic operation, expand the state partnership program, fund the Guard Cyber Force, provide funding for equipment and modernization, leverage the cost-effective Guard, military construction, personnel and benefits, preserve and operational force, and representation in defense reviews.
MAJ Harvey discussed the declining federal budget allocations. The total reduction projections for Federal FY15 are $34.7 million, a 22 percent reduction. These reductions impact readiness, jeopardize ability to perform both state and federal missions, decrease employment opportunities within Kentucky, and reduce the taxable income base. Reductions have caused Kentucky’s force structure to be at risk. A combination of the Army’s Aviation Restructuring Initiative, Total Army Analysis and Sequestration makes Kentucky the third hardest hit state in the nation. NGAKY wants the army to stop reductions in Army National Guard end-strength until FY 2017, to allow the National Commission on the Future of the Army to make recommendations on the balance between the active and reserve components as well as weigh in on the Army’s controversial Aviation Restructure Initiative, which would transfer all AH-64 Apache attack helicopters from the Army National Guard.
The Air National Guard’s main issue is the C-130 Modernization. KYANG is working to gain traction on two major C-130 issues. To modernize the C-130H transport aircraft, the air Force has agreed to an internationally-mandated modernization of the Air National Guard’s C-130H fleet with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) out capability prior to FY2020 in order to continue flying in international airspace.
NGAKY supports appropriating additional funding in the national defense bills to support UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter modernization, maintaining funding for counter-drug operations, the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act, and the National Guard burial privileges.
Brig. Gen. Steve Bullard announced that the NGAUS General Conference and EXPO will be in Nashville this year, Baltimore in 2016, and in Louisville from September 7-10, 2017. In 2017, over 4,000 are expected in attendance, key government and military leaders will be part of the conference, and it is estimated to have a $1.2 million impact on revenue for the Louisville area.
Kentucky Wounded Heroes
Mr. Reed stated that the Kentucky Wounded Heroes (KWH) was first the Kentucky Wounded Warriors program from 2007-2011 and was covered under the safety organization of the National Guard. In 2012 the program became a totally non-profit, public charity that covered military but expanded to include police, firefighters, and emergency management services personnel, which precipitated their name change.
Mr. Smith stated that the program is community based, with no compensation for any staff. The volunteer staff includes advisory capacity, pro bono attorney, CPA, and a public relations firm which also provides office space for the organization. Previously there has been no real organization taking care of the wounded “others” from the police, fire fighters, EMS, and emergency management who have been injured in some capacity in the line of duty. Members of active duty at Fort Knox and the Fort Campbell Warrior Transition Units have been helped through the organization. This program also includes spouses, children, and significant others. There have been 600 participants so far. The organization has also been able to help the University of Kentucky Traumatic Brain Injury program by getting information about them to the Wounded Heroes events and services. This program is serving as a model for other programs in other states. The organization has also helped other states create similar organizations.
Mr. Reed explained KWH’s program needs. KWH needs to find wounded heroes in KY and surrounding states and asked legislators to share information about KWH to their constituents in need. The program is also looking for ideas on grants and donations to keep the program steady and growing. Mr. Reed stated that the KWH program is in need of a 15 passenger travel van at a cost of $24,000. KWH received $12,000 from the Department of Military Affairs, and the program is looking to acquire the other $12,000.
COL (Ret.) Col. Dave Thompson, Kentucky Commission on Military Affairs, gave an update on the news released today regarding the Army reduction of troops at Fort Knox and Fort Campbell. Last year, a U.S. Army Environmental Command report found that, in the “worst-case scenario” of cuts possible, Fort Knox would stand to lose 4,100 additional soldiers and civilian jobs to those already cut, and under the same scenario, Fort Campbell would lose 16,000 military and civilian personnel. COL Thompson expressed his gratitude for the support of the Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee and stated that it was announced today that Fort Knox will be spared and the post will gain 67 soldiers and Fort Campbell will lose 363 soldiers. COL Thompson stated that sequestration is the primary driver to these cuts and the force strength is already at the lowest levels in military since before WWI.
Representative Greer expressed his relief that Fort Knox is one of only three posts nationwide to get additions. Fort Knox received a silver award for community. Brig. Gen. Steve Bullard stated that states like Georgia that have never been affected by cuts are being cut severely, but Kentucky mostly got a pass.
Chair Coursey announced that there will be a Trap Shoot on July 30, 2015, in Calvert City, Kentucky at 5:30 PM. For those interested in participating, the cost is $10 per person or $150 per team for two rounds. The proceeds will be donated to the Kentucky Wounded Heroes program.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.