Legislature(1995 - 1996)
03/22/1996 05:29 PM MLV
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HJR 61 - ANCHORAGE VETERANS AFFAIRS OFFICE Number 0067 CO-CHAIRMAN KOTT announced that the first order of business to come before the committee was HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 61, Opposing the proposed changes in the functions of the federal Office of Veterans Affairs in Anchorage. REPRESENTATIVE ED WILLIS introduced HJR 61, which he stated was brought to his attention by a group of Anchorage veterans. The resolution supports continuation of the Anchorage Veterans Affairs (VA) Regional Office. Alaska's demographics are such that the state's already large veteran population will continue to increase, putting even greater demands on the existing office in Anchorage. The resolution also points to the efficiency rating of the Anchorage VA office, which is the sixth highest of the 57 regional VA offices in the nation. HJR 61 also states that moving the pension and claims functions of the Anchorage office to Reno, Nevada and Phoenix, Arizona would impact the processing of claims and applications, and prevent personal access by veterans. Finally, HJR 61 puts the Alaska legislature on record as opposing the federal proposal of downsizing the Anchorage VA office and shifting the functions to other states. Representative Willis introduced Tim Armstrong and Gene Daw, of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Number 0306 REPRESENTATIVE RICHARD FOSTER commended Representative Willis for introducing HJR 61. He stated that at least a dozen veterans had visited his office to discuss the issue, and that he had spoken with Colonel John Ritz of Senator Stevens' staff in Washington, D.C., about the matter. He noted that passage of HJR 61 would make a strong statement. Representative Foster made a motion that HJR 61, with attached fiscal note and individual recommendations, pass out of the House Special Committee on Military and Veterans' Affairs. Number 0395 TIM ARMSTRONG, Commander, Taku Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Service Officer, Auke Bay American Legion Post, stated that Gene Daw, Past Commander of the Taku VFW post, wished to address an issue of concern to veterans. Number 0460 CO-CHAIRMAN KOTT asked if the proposed testimony was related to HJR 61. GENE DAW, Past Commander, Taku Post of the VFW, stated that the VFW is in 100 percent support of HJR 61, but that he also wished to testify on another matter. He explained that he has been working with Senator Stevens' office. Senator Stevens has requested that the VA send an under secretary to Anchorage, to discuss the proposed relocation. In addition, the under secretary will also discuss the issue of out-patient treatment for veterans. The VA plans to put veterans under a Medicare fee schedule. In some areas of Alaska, this will result in veterans having to pay a portion of their own medical bills. In the past, for those having a greater than 50 percent disability, the VA has paid 100 percent of the bill. Mr. Daw emphasized that Anchorage and Fairbanks would not be affected by this change, because VA centers are located there, where the veterans can receive out-patient treatment at no cost. For veterans in Southeast Alaska or other outlying areas, however, they must receive out-patient treatment in their own communities. Number 0662 MR. DAW further testified that when U.S. troops are sent to battle, they are called the best troops in the world. He asked why disabled veterans should not receive the best medical treatment. He reiterated that the VFW supports HJR 61, but that they would also like to see a resolution related to health care for veterans in the state. He stated the resolution needs to be passed before the under secretary's visit to Anchorage, in order to help convince the VA that it is making a mistake. He further noted that Senator Stevens is behind the veterans 100 percent, and that passing a resolution would give him more ammunition. Number 0769 CO-CHAIRMAN KOTT stated that someone from his staff could assist Mr. Daw in crafting language for a new resolution. He noted that the deadline would be tight, due to the five day notice requirement for hearings. REPRESENTATIVE FOSTER suggested that, since time remaining in the session is so short, a letter signed by all of the committee members might be helpful. CO-CHAIRMAN KOTT noted that a letter would not carry the same weight as a resolution. He also noted that, because of the dual subject rule, language regarding the health care issue could not be incorporated into HJR 61. Number 0834 REPRESENTATIVE WILLIS concurred that the two issues should be kept separate. CO-CHAIRMAN KOTT asked if there was any objection to moving HJR 61 out of the committee. Hearing no objection, HJR 61 was moved out of the House Special Committee on Military and Veterans' Affairs, with unanimous consent and attached zero fiscal note.