Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection

 

Minutes of the<MeetNo1> 4th Meeting

of the 2016 Interim

 

<MeetMDY1> September 8, 2016

 

Call to Order and Roll Call

The<MeetNo2> 4th meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection was held on<Day> Thursday,<MeetMDY2> September 8, 2016, at<MeetTime> 1:00 PM, in<Room> Room 154 of the Capitol Annex. Representative Will Coursey, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.

 

Present were:

 

Members:<Members> Representative Will Coursey, Co-Chair; Senators Julian M. Carroll, C.B. Embry Jr., Ernie Harris, Christian McDaniel, Gerald A. Neal, Mike Wilson, and Max Wise; Representatives Linda Belcher, Regina Bunch, Tom Burch, Larry Clark, Leslie Combs, Tim Couch, Ron Crimm, Myron Dossett, David Hale, James Kay, Donna Mayfield, David Meade, Terry Mills, Tom Riner, Dean Schamore, Rita Smart, Jeff Taylor, and Russell Webber.

 

Guests: US Army (Ret.) Major General Anders Aadland and Senior Consultant David Posey, International Representative, United Association Veterans in Piping (VIP); Commissioner Normal Arflack and Mark Bowman, Executive Director, Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs; Lt. Col. (Ret.) Rick Gill and Joe Merimee, Lyon County American Legion Post 68, Service Dogs for Veterans.

 

LRC Staff: Erica Warren, Jessica Zeh, Jonathan Philpot, and Rhonda Schierer.

 

Minutes

Senator Carroll moved to approve the August 3, 2016, meeting minutes. Representative Smart seconded the motion. The motion carried with a voice vote.

 

Veterans in Piping

General Aadland and David Posey shared a short video and PowerPoint presentation on the United Association Veterans in Piping (VIP) program. The video and presentation are part of the Legislative Research Libraryís official record. The video illustrated how the VIP program helps veterans transition into civilian life with job opportunities. Veterans develop skills through the United Association (UA) of Journeymen and Apprentices of the plumbing and pipe fitting industry who have partnered with the U.S. military to create the VIP program. This training puts veterans in high demand positions nationwide. The training is provided at no cost, and all funding is from the UAís International Training Fund, a management and labor cooperative. The VIP program is an 18-week pre-apprenticeship program, and upon graduation, the participants are given jobs and placed in the UAís five-year apprenticeship program to embark upon new careers. UA members earn good wages, pensions, and benefits. UA is a private sector trade union with over 340,000 members in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. It is a joint consortium of labor and private contractors and administers, funds, and supervises all training and certifications. UA members are trained as pipefitters, welders, sprinkler fitters, plumbers, and HVACR service technicians. The UA worked with congressional leaders to pass the 2011 Vow to Hire Heroes Act, which authorized full-time active-duty participation. There are eight UA VIP programs at Department of Defense installations all across the U.S., including one at Fort Campbell, which has had a welding program since 2014.

 

In response to a question from Senator Carroll, General Aadland said that VIP program interviews are vigorous and not for slackers. There is a standard for excellence.

 

In response to a question from Representative Burch, Gen. Aadland stated that the VIP program has women enrolled.

 

In response to a question from Representative Taylor, Mr. Posey stated that the VIP program markets to veteranís centers, high schools, and other places.

 

Service Dogs for Veterans

Joe Merimee described the canine partners for life program through the Lyon County American Legion Post 68. He indicated that 22 veterans commit suicide every day and many of these veterans suffer from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He believes that many of the veteran suicides could have been prevented if they had a fully trained and certified PTSD service dog. After becoming aware of this issue, the Lyon County American Legion Post 68 fully committed to establishing a PTSD service dog program, and will be a service dog center of training excellence for Kentucky. Post 68ís goal is to provide fully trained and certified service dogs at no charge to suitable veterans. This initiative comes at a steep price, and Post 68 is searching for partners to help finance the program. Service dogs cost $25,000 or more to train and match with the right veteran. The VA does not provide PTSD service dogs to veterans. A brochure with information from the Lyon County American Legion Post 68, Inc. is part of this official record.

 

Lt. Col. (Ret.) Rick Gill testified that his dog, Lennie, has been invaluable and even lifesaving to him after his 35 years in the military and 848 flight missions in Vietnam. Upon returning home, Col. Gill did not realize he had PTSD, but he eventually was determined to be 70 percent disabled due to PTSD. After hearing about a program in Virginia called the Extreme Exposure Program and completing an application for a service dog, he was one of eight veterans out of 400 applicants who received a certified service dog from an organization in Carbondale, Illinois. He was chosen to receive a dog and was able to train with Lennie to help him deal with severe (PTSD). He expressed his gratitude for having Lennie and how the program and Lennie have been life changing. During his testimony, Lennie was nudged him as he started to get upset as he spoke about his experience in the military and the difficulties he encountered when he returned home. He stressed the need for more veterans to receive properly trained service dogs in Kentucky.

 

In response to a question from Representative Kay, Mr. Merimee stated that Post 68 uses Clay McElroy, a dog trainer with 30 years of experience. The program takes up to 18 months training with each dog chosen and then another year of training with a veteran who has been chosen for that specific service dog. There are places that a person can pay $150 to obtain a tag that indicates that the person has a service dog. Mr. Merimee said there should be protections for veterans as some puppy mills claim to have service dogs, but the dogs not have proper training and the veterans do not get a real service dog. There are no legal standards for service dogs at this time.

 

In response to a question from Representative Crimm, Col. Gill explained that his Lennie nudges him when he senses that he is getting upset and that the dog is like a partner who wakens him when he has flashbacks or bad dreams in order to calm him down.

 

In response to a question to a question from Representative Smart, Col. Gill stated that service dogs are covered by federal legislation that allows him to take Lennie to any public place or anywhere he goes.

 

State Nursing Home Bed Allocation

Commissioner Arflack gave a PowerPoint presentation on state veteransí homes. The PowerPoint presentation illustrated the specific census for the four homes for 2016. Thompson-Hood Veterans Center in Wilmore has 285 beds of which 233 are occupied, the Eddie Ballard Western Kentucky Veterans Center in Hanson has 156 beds of which 105 are occupied, and the Paul E. Patton Eastern Kentucky Veterans Center in Hazard has 120 beds of which 113 are occupied. The Radcliff Veterans Center has projected admissions for November 2016; furniture is being delivered and installed at this time. The facility must have 21 residing veterans before it may ask for the VA recognition survey for final approval. After the facility is duly certified and recognized, the first neighborhood will be filled, and then admission will progress by neighborhoods of 30 veterans each. This facility is designed to be as close to home as possible with a community living concept and even private patios.

 

Commissioner Arflack discussed the revised admission process. A webpage and phone applications have replaced the 16-page paper application. The burden has shifted from veterans and families to admissions staff of the Kentucky Department of Veteranís Affairs.

 

††††††††††† Commissioner Arflack discussed the future construction status of the Bowling Green Project and the Magoffin County efforts. The Bowling Green projectís 90 beds did not receive funding support but it remains active on the unfunded priority list. He clarified that he does not anticipate that changing and does not expect any movement on the Magoffin County efforts until a feasibility study has been completed. The contract for the feasibility study should be finalized by the end of September.

 

††††††††††† Mr. Bowman explained the federal VAís FY16 funded projects list. There are more projects on the list than are feasible to be funded. The State Home Grant Construction Program (SHGCP) received an annual appropriation of $120 million for FY16 and an additional $20 million from the Office of Rural Health for a total of $140 million in funds. Projects 1 through 36 were offered funding on FY16ís priority list. Funds are used for various projects throughout the year, so the list can change due to leftover funding; there is no guarantee that projects 1 through 36 will be built. The SHGCP updated list is expected to be published in December 2016, according to Lisa Moore, Grant Manager at SHGCP.

 

††††††††††† Mr. Bowman explained the construction process. After facility is placed on the priority one list, at best it could be five to eight years before construction starts; it could take eight to twelve years before construction starts. The BowlingGreen project is at 109 on the list and will stay on the bottom tier as an application until state funding is supported by the General Assembly. General Arflack stated that his sole purpose is to insure that veterans in the Commonwealth are taken care of in the manner they deserve.

 

††††††††††† In response to a question from Representative Hale, General Arflack explained that Thompson-Hood is not at capacity. Approximately 233 are occupied. It is an older facility, and at times a wing is closed for upkeep. Also, the facilityís proximity to Lexington makes for a competitive market for hiring sufficient qualified staff to support filling more beds.

 

††††††††††† In response to a questions from Representative Combs, Mr. Bowman stated that a facility such as Radcliff would employ about 200 employees, but there are about 750 employees in the three existing facilities at this time. A 120 bed facility would probably translate into at least 160 jobs. Representative Combs stressed the need for providing beds for veterans in eastern Kentucky and said a new facility would provide desperately needed jobs.

 

††††††††††† Chairman Coursey stated that Representative Short was in the audience and had requested to speak to the committee. Representative Short explained that eastern Kentucky is experiencing a terrible economy. There are already four veteransí nursing homes in Kentucky, of which three of those are west of I-75. He said there is a need to have nursing homes closer to the veteransí families as they cannot afford to travel so far to see loved ones. Veterans in eastern Kentucky who a nursing home in their area. Larry Lannin, a guest of Representative Short, expressed his desire for a new facility in eastern Kentucky.

In response to a question from Chairman Coursey, Mr. Bowman indicated that the feasibility study would take several weeks to get started and then six to eight weeks to complete.

 

In response to a question from Representative Belcher, Commissioner Arflack stated that he does not know how decisions were made prior to his becoming commissioner, which is why he is asking for a feasibility study to determine where there is the greatest need. Commissioner Arflack stated that KDVA will make the final decision based on the results of the feasibility study.

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There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.