Call to Order and Roll Call
The5th meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection was held on Thursday, October 13, 2016, at 1:00 PM, in Room 154 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Albert Robinson, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Albert Robinson, Co-Chair; Senators Perry B. Clark, C.B. Embry Jr., Carroll Gibson, Ernie Harris, Christian McDaniel, Gerald A. Neal, Dennis Parrett, Whitney Westerfield, and Max Wise; Representatives Linda Belcher, Regina Bunch, Tom Burch, Larry Clark, Leslie Combs, Tim Couch, Ron Crimm, Kenny Imes, James Kay, Martha Jane King, Tim Moore, Rick G. Nelson, Tom Riner, Dean Schamore, Rita Smart, Jeff Taylor, and Russell Webber.
Guests: Major General Stephen R. Hogan, The Adjutant General; Representative Tom Burch, Frank E. Konermann, and Ben Swager, Administrator, Thompson-Hood Veterans Center; Mark Bowman, Executive Director, OKVC.
LRC Staff: Erica Warren, Jessica Zeh, Jonathan Philpot, and Rhonda Schierer.
Kentucky National Guard Update
General Hogan gave a PowerPoint presentation for the Kentucky National Guard (KYNG) update. The PowerPoint presentation is part of this official record in the Legislative Research Commission Library. General Hogan said that the briefing is about the federal portion of guard duties in terms of current operations and future operations. The mission statement for the KYNG is the same with the two important words being relevant and ready. Senior staff articulated four priorities for the KYNG staff, known as Plan 105: (1) federal mission proficiency; (2) state mission proficiency, including responsibility to natural disasters, civil disturbances, and major infrastructure failures; (3) relevance to the U.S. Army and Air Force; and (4) soldiers, airmen, and family readiness, which is the most difficult of the issues.
The strategic trends on the Army side are all going through a Budget Control Act in which the Army Guard is scheduled to reduce from 342,000 to 315,000 nationally. That could potentially mean that the Kentucky Army could lose 1,400 of roughly 6,700 soldiers. Active component and reserve component training relationships are now part of the whole force Army concept. There are two units that are going to be with the 101st Division and they will be assigned as needed. The whole force Army concept with the active component will make the guard more ready and relevant.
The strategic trends on the Air Force side are limited C-130H models that are over 20 years old. There are two different avenues for modernization: (1) limited modernization of the C-130H models themselves or (2) getting brand new air frames. Kentucky is hoping for brand new air frames or C130J, Juliet models. The Air Force Special Operations Command FY18 growth will add 41 personnel to 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, and cyber growth offers the potential to grow the 223rd Intelligence Flight from 16 to 71 and become a squadron.
General Hogan explained that soldier and airman readiness includes a community partnership liaison, state tuition assistance, and behavioral health assistance. The KYNG is going to have every armory and every community attach a responsible, highly respected retired guardsman to be a legacy mentor. That individual will be able to give perspective on both training and management, but also be a kind voice to the soldiers and airmen who are having a difficult time. Requests for tuition assistance have increased but are still under budget. Behavioral health has to do with responding to the soldier if he has any issues returning from deployment or any military service. There are many initiatives to support behavioral health issues, including applied suicide intervention skills training. There have been 618 trained through this service.
General Hogan indicated that KYNG has 56 armories within 52 communities statewide and 12 maintenance facilities. There are three state training sites. KYNG may not need all the facilities. The Louisville armory at the fairgrounds and the Maysville armory have been closed. Although KYNG was looking at closing three armories in 2017, they have learned recently that the Army is going to award a few units to some deserving states and General Hogan feels that Kentucky is most deserving. For that reason, he is going to keep some of the armories open until the realization of that process. The two armories that are completely underutilized are in Henderson and Russellville. There is a plan to move all 56 armories into a regional readiness concept in Burlington, Richmond, Paducah, and Morehead. The next four that KYNG plans to invigorate are in Louisville, Bowling Green, Somerset, and Lexington/Winchester area.
In response to a question from Senator Harris, General Hogan stated that the J models have gone to active component issues as a priority. General Bullard clarified that C130H avionics are over 20 years old and the second oldest in the Air Force now. The active duty switched to all J models which was a violation of trust with the National Guard. The active duty is supposed to be concurrent and proportional to the Air National Guard in the fielding of equipment and the active duty. Funding from Congress is being sought to modernize the avionics in the C130H models as they can no longer fly overseas after 2019 without the new avionics package. General Bullard stated that the ultimate goal is to capitalize to the C130Js.
In response to a question from Representative Smart regarding the Youth Challenge Program, General Hogan explained that KYNG is working with the local school board to get accredited so that the youth can leave the program with a diploma.
Thompson-Hood Veterans Center Staffing Concerns
Representative Tom Burch brought forth a constituent, Frank E. Konermann, who is a member of the advisory board at the Thompson-Hood Veterans Center. Representative Burch explained that it was brought to his attention recently that there are staffing concerns at the Thompson-Hood Veterans Center. There are 282 beds, and only 232 can be filled due to staffing issues. The center cannot afford to pay staff what other facilities can near Lexington due to the fact that the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet has set salaries and most other facilities that are not under the government policy offer higher starting salary ranges. This makes it very difficult to compete.
In response to a question from Representative Clark, Mr. Konermann stated that the decline in staff has been going on since 2014 or longer.
In response to a question from Representative Smart, Mr. Konermann referred to Mr. Ben Swager, the Administrator of the Thompson-Hood facility. Mr. Swager stated that the Thompson-Hood facility has at least another 35 beds that it could fill if it was adequately staffed and authorized. He stated that is not an issue with budget funding, but rather is an issue with the state personnel policy and the starting salaries being offered a pay scale structure for the state. A registered nurse pay range in the private sector starts at $24-$32 an hour. Thompson-Hood’s entry level starts under $22 an hour. He is authorized for 16 registered nurses and only has 3 on the payroll due to the need for higher pay.
In response to a question from Chairman Robinson, Mr. Swager stated that he has a waiting list of 23 veterans who could be housed at Thompson-Hood Veterans Center if there were appropriate staffing levels.
In response to Representative Clark, Mr. Swager stated that the center had reached out to universities for internships and other avenues, but when talking to them about salary, employees go to facilities that can pay more.
In response to a question from Representative Dossett, Mr. Swager stated that, ideally, Thompson-Hood wants to have 4.0 hours of care per patient per day but is averaging around 3.2 hours per day due to staffing.
In response to a question from Representative Belcher, Mr. Swager stated that something that could help is for the nursing homes to be exempt from the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet salary range.
In response to a question from Representative King, Mark Bowman stated that the center is interested in getting together with her to go to the National Conference of State Legislatures task force that she serves on. Representative King stated that this would allow them to look at a 50 state situation and help with ideas of implementation. Representative King said she would love to partner to help get answers that would allow more veterans a place in the nursing homes.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.