Call to Order and Roll Call
The3rd meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection was held on Thursday, September 10, 2015, at 1:00 PM, in Room 149 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 Julian M. Carroll, Perry B. Clark, C. B. Embry Jr., Carroll Gibson, Ernie Harris, Stan Humphries, Christian McDaniel, Gerald A. Neal, Dennis Parrett, Whitney Westerfield, and Mike Wilson; Representatives Regina Bunch, Tom Burch, Denver Butler, Larry Clark, Leslie Combs, Tim Couch, Ron Crimm, Jim Gooch Jr., Jeff Greer, David Hale, Donna Mayfield, Terry Mills, Tim Moore, Rick G. Nelson, Tom Riner, Dean Schamore, Rita Smart, John Tilley, and Russell Webber.
Guests: LuWanda Knuckles, Women Veterans Coordinator and Dennis Shepherd, Legal Counsel, Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs; Representative Susan Westrom and her constituent, Susan Mosely.
LRC Staff: Erica Warren, Kristopher Shera, Jessica Zeh, and Rhonda Schierer.
Update on Federal Military Trauma Legislation
Representative Susan Westrom introduced a constituent, Susan Moseley, who is a female veteran who was subjected to sexual assault while serving in the military. Representative Westrom explained to the committee how the two of them met and the things she has learned from female veterans in various counseling and support groups. She also discussed the proposed legislation from Congressman Andy Barr that will amend the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 to improve the private treatment of veterans who are victims of military sexual assault, known as the Military Sexual Assault, Victims Empowerment Act, or the Military SAVE Act. Representative Westrom stated that 26,000 active veterans expressed that they have been victims of sexual assault and they need help. Representative Westromís constituent, Susan Moseley testified that she was sexually assaulted by her superior officer only four months after she was enlisted in the military. She was told that she would be sent home if she told about her assault. Ms. Moseley wanted to serve her country and continued to do so but developed an eating disorder as a result of MST. She was hospitalized and told that she was not stable enough to testify against her superior officer. After leaving the military, Ms. Moseley joined a military sexual assault victims group and realized that years after being assaulted herself, assault in the military has continued to grow in numbers and many veterans continue to suffer from Military Sexual Trauma (MST).
After pleas from Ms. Mosely and other MST survivors, Representative Westrom turned to Congressman Andy Barr for help with legislation in Congress to protect MST victims and allow them to seek medical help outside the VA. Ms. Moseley stated that there are only two places in Kentucky for women veterans to go outside the VA to get care.
One of the largest problems within the MST victim groups is that most victims cannot vocalize what has happened to them. Susan is stepping up to be a voice for herself and the many other victims she has met. She is going to Congress to address the issue and hopes to get legislation passed to allow women to go outside the VA in order to get the proper care they need. Ms. Moseley came before the Kentucky Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Interim Joint Committee to prepare herself for Congress and to make legislators aware of what is happening in regards to sexual assault victims in Kentucky.
As a survivor of MST, Ms. Mosely still struggles with certain triggers from her MST. One of her triggers is seeing men in military uniforms. Representative Tim Moore, a Colonel in the Air Force, and committee member sat next to her at the testimony table to help her prepare to speak before Congress. Ms. Moseley stated that many of the victims in her support group are homeless or addicts and end up in jail or hospitalized. This leaves Kentucky to pick up jail and medical costs because there are no places for these victims to go to seek help or to feel safe. Most of the homeless shelters are male shelters, and women do not feel safe in that environment. Representative Westrom stated that the bill before Congress would allow women to go outside the VA to get proper care. The bill is not partisan or gender related.
††††††††††† In response to a question from Representative Rita Smart, Ms. Moseley stated that MST impacts her daily life. She prepares herself to be as good of a mother to her daughter as possible. Without her daughter, she would not be out in public as much. She makes herself very aware of all of her surroundings before she goes inside public buildings. Going into the VA is a difficult task for her due to the many men in uniform and the lack of knowledge that the VA has about MST.
††††††††††† In response to a question from Senator Clark, Ms. Moseley stated that she has been a veteran since 1996, and she has permanent care for her condition.
††††††††††† In response to a question from Senator Carroll, Ms. Moseley stated that she was told she was psychologically traumatized and could not go to a court martial. She stated that there are thousands of other victims in Kentucky with the same issue. As a patient of the VA, a veteran would only get one appointment a month for care, which is not enough care for victims of MST.
††††††††††† Representative Moore stressed the urgency of the situation and stated that the military has more women serving in the military each year. The military is stepping up measures to include mandatory trainings for managers to help prevent these kinds of assaults. General Steve Bullard, with the Kentucky National Guard, spoke up from the audience and stated that he has been in the military for 31 years and that today there is sexual assault prevention training for each member of the Air Force. There is special training for senior officers. The officers need to help hold each other accountable.
During the meeting, Congressman Andy Bar sent word to General Steve Bullard that there are 32 co-sponsors for the improved legislation so far.
††††††††††† In response to a question from Chair Coursey, Ms. Moseley stated that MST and PTSD have differences in the type of care needed and received. Chairman Coursey stated that, when Ms. Moseley was assaulted, she was left in an environment where the people stood up for the perpetrator. Ms. Moseley stated that MST is about sexual power. Women are left powerless. The VA did not even know about MST when she sought treatment.
††††††††††† In response to a question from Representative Riner, Ms. Mosely stated that most women are brought before a jury of enlisted males and put under the pressure of destroying someoneís career. Ms. Moseley stated that she was given a lie detector test, and her perpetrator still did not have any charges brought against him. This brought back the feelings of being assaulted and traumatized.
††††††††††† Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs: Year of the Woman Veteran
LuWanda Knuckles, Women Veterans Coordinator, and Dennis Shepherd, Legal Counsel, gave a PowerPoint presentation on the Year of the Woman Veteran and services provided by women veterans. Mr. Shepherd stated that there are over 30,000 women veterans today. He introduced Ms. Knuckles, saying she is the newly appointed Women Veterans Coordinator. She is an Army veteran and a Guardís member, served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and knows the importance of veteransí benefits for women. Ms. Knuckles stated that the mission of the Kentucky Women Veterans Program (KWVP) is to ensure that Kentuckyís women veterans have equitable access to federal and state veteransí services and benefits. KWVPís objective is to provide information, advocacy, outreach and support to women veterans and their families. KWVP strives to assure that women veterans receive benefits and services parallel to their male counterparts, to discourage discrimination, to assure that women are treated with respect and understood by veteran service providers. The goals of KWVP are to perform outreach to improve women veteransí awareness of eligibility for federal and state veterans services and benefits, make recommendations to the Commissioner to improve benefits and services, research projects to meet the needs of Kentucky women veterans, incorporate women veteransí issues in the departmentís strategic planning, and participate in national forums and committees for women veterans.
Mr. Shepherd stated that KWVP is committed to advocate on behalf of women veterans, encourage and support recognition of their contributions, provide outreach for programs and issues, and unite Kentucky women veterans so their voices will be heard. He stated that Commissioner Heather French Henry fully supports KWVPís commitment.
Ms. Knuckles stated that part of KWVPís outreach is establishing a database for Kentucky women veterans. The database includes volunteered information that is strictly confidential, and includes email addresses for distributing information of interest to them. There are 2,300 women veterans who have provided their information. The outreach efforts will work to increase shelter space for homeless women veterans, enroll women veterans in VA health care, and attend multiple events to meet and inform KY women veterans. KDVA has financially assisted 55 women veterans at a cost of $13,737.43 through the KDVA Homeless Veterans Program.
In response to a question from Representative Mayfield, Mr. Shepherd stated that it is hard to have an exact number of homeless women veterans because many will not admit they are homeless. Mr. Shepherd stated that Trina Patty, Homeless Veteran Coordinator at KDVA, could better answer that question.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.