Legislature(2001 - 2002)

05/05/2001 01:10 PM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
          SB  55-PIONEERS' AND VETERANS' HOME/ADVISORY BD                                                                   
CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT said  it was not his intent to move SB 55 but he                                                            
would like  to hear more information.  Some pioneers who  oppose the                                                            
bill  in its current  form  but think  there is  the possibility  of                                                            
working things  out have contacted  him. Earlier, when he  asked for                                                            
information on  the regulation package it was still  in outline form                                                            
but he thought  it might help allay some of the fears.  Also, at the                                                            
House State Affairs Committee  meeting the contents of the letter to                                                            
Mr. Leo  Kaye from Tony Principi  were read  into the record  and he                                                            
wondered  whether Commissioner  Duncan  had reviewed  the letter  or                                                            
been in touch with the  Veterans Administration (VA) and was able to                                                            
explain some  of the terminology  in the  letter. Specifically,  the                                                            
line that says,  "The VA State Home per diem grant  program provides                                                            
federal payments  to states for eligible veterans"  is unclear as to                                                            
whether  the funding  flows  to the  individual  veteran  or to  the                                                            
state. Next, the  line stating, "We look forward to  working closely                                                            
with the state  to help Alaska meet all federal grant  requirements"                                                            
left  unanswered  what those  grant  requirements are.  Finally  the                                                            
mention of taking over  one of the pioneer homes or a wing of a home                                                            
is quite possibly causing some concern among Pioneers.                                                                          
JIM DUNCAN, Commissioner  of Administration, passed  out copies of a                                                            
letter  he  sent   to  the  chairman  of  the  Pioneers   of  Alaska                                                            
legislative committee  in March 2001 and a letter  about regulations                                                            
he sent to Chairman Therriault in February.                                                                                     
The Pioneers do have specific  concerns about the legislation and he                                                            
now recommends three amendments to address those concerns.                                                                      
        · First, they didn't want the state pioneer home system to                                                              
          fall under federal  control and regulation. That has never                                                            
          been  the intention and to  make this clear he  recommends                                                            
          that  legislative committees  add  an intent section  that                                                            
          clearly   states  that   it  is   the  intention   of  the                                                            
          legislature  that this remain  a state owned and  operated                                                            
          system  located within  the Department  of Administration                                                             
          and  it is not  to fall under  federal rules, regulations                                                             
          and requirements.                                                                                                     
        · The second recommendation is to delete the language that                                                              
          refers  to cooperation  with the  federal government  from                                                            
          the pioneer home statutes.                                                                                            
        · The third recommendation stems from the concern about                                                                 
          putting  veteran's preference  in regulation and  the fear                                                            
          that  it  might  result in  a  veterans'  home  and not  a                                                            
          pioneer/veteran  home. The regulation outlined seems clear                                                            
          and  says the 21 percent  preference will be of  the fully                                                            
          funded beds so  if all 600 beds were funded it would be 21                                                            
          percent  of 600 and if there  are just 500 funded  beds it                                                            
          would  be 21  percent of  500. Preference  would never  be                                                            
          given to more  than 21 percent of the funded beds. Because                                                            
          of the  concerns, he recommends putting  the regulation in                                                            
          statute,  which would resolve the concern  because then it                                                            
          would require legislative action to change it.                                                                        
The bill  drafters have  been asked  to look at  the language  again                                                            
even though they believe  the current language that provides for the                                                            
21 percent preference and  spousal preference is language they would                                                            
recommend putting into statute.                                                                                                 
The name  change to  pioneer/veteran  home is  important because  to                                                            
fulfill the  commitment to  veterans they need  to be recognized  in                                                            
name.  The  name   change  is  also  necessary  from   the  Veterans                                                            
Administration's viewpoint.                                                                                                     
CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT  asked what is  entailed in the language,  "meet                                                            
all federal grant requirements."                                                                                                
COMMISSIONER  DUNCAN responded  that was in  the letter to  Mr. Kaye                                                            
from Department  of Veterans  Affairs' (VA)  Secretary Principi.  He                                                            
interprets that  as present VA policy such as the  requirements that                                                            
homes must  meet so that  the residents of  those homes qualify  for                                                            
the federal  VA benefits. In the discussion  with Mr. Principi  they                                                            
talked about  developing  a model pioneer/veterans  home system  and                                                            
obtaining a federal  waiver of the typical requirements  so veterans                                                            
in the combined home could  receive VA benefits. Currently there are                                                            
90 veterans in the pioneer  homes in Alaska and none of them receive                                                            
per diem veteran's  benefits. These benefits would  flow directly to                                                            
the veteran  who would use the money  to help pay for their  cost of                                                            
Secretary Principi  was clearly interested in working  on this model                                                            
combined system because,  if successful, it could be used throughout                                                            
the country.                                                                                                                    
CHAIRMAN  THERRIAULT asked  whether, as a first  step, the  VA would                                                            
make the change  in their policy to  allow veteran benefit  payments                                                            
to those 90 veterans currently in the pioneer homes.                                                                            
COMMISSIONER  DUNCAN said  that would  be a big step  for the  VA to                                                            
make without the  state taking some action to indicate  a commitment                                                            
to veterans. It  has to be a hand-in-hand joint effort.  Lacking the                                                            
preference  or name change it will  be difficult for them  to take a                                                            
first step.                                                                                                                     
CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT  asked if a name  change would be sufficient  to                                                            
get the  VA to change their  policy so the  veterans in the  pioneer                                                            
system could get the VA benefits.                                                                                               
COMMISSIONER DUNCAN could not give a definitive answer.                                                                         
CHAIRMAN  THERRIAULT  commented  that  for some  seniors,  the  name                                                            
change is the most egregious part.                                                                                              
SENATOR PHILLIPS  asked why there is such resistance  from the World                                                            
War II generation.                                                                                                              
COMMISSIONER  DUNCAN said  there is no one  specific reason.  First,                                                            
the pioneer home  system has been in existence since  1913 and there                                                            
is ownership that  has built up and change is frequently  difficult.                                                            
Second,  there has  been some misinformation  that  this would  mean                                                            
that pioneers  who have been on the list for years  would be stepped                                                            
over by veterans and they  would not get into the home when desired.                                                            
Also,  there is  concern that  pioneer  women would  not be  treated                                                            
fairly.  Last,  there is  concern  that  the  homes would  be  under                                                            
federal control and regulation.                                                                                                 
SENATOR PHILLIPS said veterans complained to him.                                                                               
COMMISSIONER   DUNCAN   agreed   there   are  some   veterans   with                                                            
reservations but there  are a number of veterans' organizations that                                                            
have expressed support.                                                                                                         
SENATOR PHILLIPS commented  that the average age in the pioneer home                                                            
is 85 and  most of them  probably served in  some capacity  in World                                                            
War  II  so there  must  be  a  difference  of  opinion  among  that                                                            
COMMISSIONER DUNCAN said  he thought the average age of occupancy is                                                            
87  and  the  waiting  list  is 83.  He  too  is  mystified  at  the                                                            
CHAIRMAN  THERRIAULT   announced   that  because  of  the   shifting                                                            
schedules,  a  number  of  individuals  were  not able  to  wait  to                                                            
teleconference  but  they faxed  their  testimony.  Most  identified                                                            
themselves as pioneers who opposed the change.                                                                                  
He said he would  like to continue to work through  the interim with                                                            
Commissioner  Duncan, his department  and the  VA to work toward  an                                                            
acceptable  piece  of  legislation.   Getting  a  number  of  issues                                                            
clarified with the VA would help with the discussion.                                                                           
SENATOR  DAVIS thought  there should  definitely  be some work  done                                                            
with the  VA. She has received  letters and  messages from  veterans                                                            
who are not in  favor of the change.  They have indicated  they want                                                            
something  dedicated to  them alone  - not as  a joint facility.  If                                                            
they  could be  assured  they would  be  adequately  cared for,  the                                                            
opposition might go away.                                                                                                       
SENATOR PHILLIPS pointed  out that Senator Davis' district abuts his                                                            
and the  complaints he received  came from  the area closest  to her                                                            
district so there are obviously concerns.                                                                                       
COMMISSIONER DUNCAN  was anxious to work on the various  concerns to                                                            
the legislation during  the interim. They will continue to work with                                                            
the VA as well.                                                                                                                 
SENATOR DAVIS  asked whether the two amendments Commissioner  Duncan                                                            
recommended were in printed form.                                                                                               
CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT said they were not formalized.                                                                              
COMMISSIONER DUNCAN  responded the first two are in  a letter to Bob                                                            
Hufman  and   the  third  recommendation   is  to  incorporate   the                                                            
regulations into statute.                                                                                                       
CHAIRMAN  THERRIAULT  added  the  current  statutory  language  with                                                            
regard to working with the federal government would be deleted.                                                                 
SENATOR PHILLIPS  asked for more information  for the committee  and                                                            
the public on the 65 percent funding reference.                                                                                 
COMMISSIONER  DUNCAN responded if  a stand alone home is  built, the                                                            
federal  government would  provide  65 percent  of the construction                                                             
costs while the state would provide 35 percent.                                                                                 
SENATOR PHILLIPS  thought that needs to be talked  about and fleshed                                                            
out during the interim.                                                                                                         
CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT called for teleconference testimony.                                                                        
ED BARBER is with the Pioneers  of Alaska and lives in Anchorage. He                                                            
encouraged  the committee to include  all parties when they  work on                                                            
this legislation  in the interim.  It's important to include  the VA                                                            
so they can  make their position known  to everyone. There  are many                                                            
questions that  need to be answered. At least nine  others wanted to                                                            
testify but were not able to wait for the committee to meet.                                                                    
He stressed the importance  of advertising any meetings and adhering                                                            
to whatever time schedule is set.                                                                                               
CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT thanked  Mr. Barber for his comments and assured                                                            
him that  his staff would  be contacting  the individuals to  assure                                                            
them their  faxed testimony is in  the bill packet and to  apologize                                                            
for the disrupted schedule.                                                                                                     
GENE DAU  testified as a  disabled veteran  in support of SB  55. He                                                            
asked Senator Stevens to  give the bill a plug when he addressed the                                                            
joint body and  he did so. This is a win-win situation  according to                                                            
Senator Stevens  and, as chairman  of the appropriations  committee,                                                            
he is in a position to help. He urged action.                                                                                   
CHAIRMAN THERRIAULT  announced SB  55 would be held in committee  to                                                            
be worked on in the interim.                                                                                                    

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