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
HOUSE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON MILITARY AND VETERANS' AFFAIRS March 22, 1996 5:29 p.m. MEMBERS PRESENT Representative Ivan Ivan, Co-Chair Representative Pete Kott, Co-Chair Representative Ed Willis Representative Richard Foster MEMBERS ABSENT Representative Eldon Mulder, Vice Chair Representative Gail Phillips Representative John Davies COMMITTEE CALENDAR * HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 61 Opposing the proposed changes in the functions of the federal Office of Veterans Affairs in Anchorage. - PASSED OUT OF COMMITTEE * HOUSE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION NO. 32 Establishing YUKLA 27 Remembrance Day. - PASSED OUT OF COMMITTEE (* First public hearing) PREVIOUS ACTION BILL: HJR 61 SHORT TITLE: ANCHORAGE VETERANS AFFAIRS OFFICE SPONSOR(S): STATE AFFAIRS JRN-DATE JRN-PG ACTION 03/08/96 3029 (H) READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRAL(S) 03/08/96 3029 (H) MLV, STATE AFFAIRS 03/22/96 (H) MLV AT 5:00 PM CAPITOL 17 BILL: HCR 32 SHORT TITLE: YUKLA 27 REMEMBRANCE DAY SPONSOR(S): LABOR & COMMERCE JRN-DATE JRN-PG ACTION 03/08/96 3028 (H) READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRAL(S) 03/08/96 3028 (H) MLV 03/22/96 (H) MLV AT 5:00 PM CAPITOL 17 WITNESS REGISTER TIM ARMSTRONG, Commander Taku Post, Veterans of Foreign Wars Service Officer, Auke Bay American Legion Post 6590 Glacier Highway, Space 101 Juneau, Alaska 99801 Telephone: (907) 780-6723 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in support of HJR 61 GENE DAW, Past Commander Taku Post, Veterans of Foreign Wars P.O. Box 0995 Juneau, Alaska 99802 Telephone: (907) 586-3816 POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in support of HJR 61 ACTION NARRATIVE TAPE 96-5, SIDE A Number 0025 CO-CHAIR PETE KOTT called the House Special Committee on Military and Veterans' Affairs meeting to order at 5:29 p.m. Members present at the call to order were Representatives Ivan, Kott, Willis and Foster. Members absent were Representatives Mulder, Phillips and Davies. 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. HCR 32 - YUKLA 27 REMEMBRANCE DAY Number 0915 CO-CHAIRMAN IVAN IVAN announced that the next order of business to come before the committee was HOUSE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION NO. 32, Establishing YUKLA 27 Remembrance Day. REPRESENTATIVE PETE KOTT noted that a bill resembling HCR 32 had been previously introduced, but at the request of many members, it was re-drafted as a resolution. He stated that the event referred to is unmatched within the state, in terms of loss of life and resources. The resolution includes the provision that copies will be forwarded to the next of kin of the deceased airmen. Number 1026 REPRESENTATIVE RICHARD FOSTER made a motion that the committee pass out the resolution. CO-CHAIRMAN IVAN announced that, there being no objection, HCR 32 was passed out of the House Special Committee on Military and Veterans' Affairs, with unanimous consent and attached zero fiscal note. CO-CHAIRMAN IVAN then noted that Mr. Daw wished to make a statement. Number 1275 MR. DAW then continued his discussion of the proposed reduction to veteran's benefits. He explained that under the new system, when a medical care provider presents a bill to the VA, the VA will pay whatever the normal Medicare payment would be. In Southeast Alaska and other outlying areas, this would amount to about 60 percent. Thus, the veteran would be required to pay the remaining 40 percent. He emphasized that, especially for retired disabled veterans, this would be a real hardship, especially since it is so unexpected. These veterans have always counted on the VA to pay their medical bills. Number 1228 REPRESENTATIVE IVAN suggested that Mr. Daw work with legislative staff to develop a resolution regarding the issue. MR. DAW further testified that a meeting regarding the Medicare fee schedule had been held in Juneau recently, but no veteran's organization representatives were invited. Only medical care providers were invited. Number 1330 MR. ARMSTRONG noted that the meeting was only discovered by accident, through a comment by a federal building security guard. No veteran's organizations were notified about the meeting. Even the local VA affairs representative in the building was not aware of the meeting until it was actually ongoing. CO-CHAIRMAN KOTT encouraged Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Daw to work with his staff, and develop language for a resolution. Co-Chairman Kott noted that the committee would be happy to expedite such a resolution. REPRESENTATIVE IVAN noted that his staff was also available to help with the resolution. ADJOURNMENT Number 1445 There being no further business to come before the House Special Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, Co-Chairman Kott announced that the meeting was adjourned at 5:50 p.m.