Legislature(2021 - 2022)GRUENBERG 120

04/27/2021 01:00 PM MILITARY & VETERANS' AFFAIRS

Note: the audio and video recordings are distinct records and are obtained from different sources. As such there may be key differences between the two. The audio recordings are captured by our records offices as the official record of the meeting and will have more accurate timestamps. Use the icons to switch between them.

Download Mp3. <- Right click and save file as

* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
+= SB 40 VETERANS' BENEFITS SERVICES; DISCLOSURE TELECONFERENCED
Moved SB 40 Out of Committee
+= HJR 16 HMONG VETERANS MILITARY RIGHTS TELECONFERENCED
Moved HJR 16 Out of Committee
-- Public Testimony --
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
**Streamed live on AKL.tv**
                    ALASKA STATE LEGISLATURE                                                                                  
   HOUSE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON MILITARY AND VETERANS' AFFAIRS                                                                  
                         April 27, 2021                                                                                         
                           1:04 p.m.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
MEMBERS PRESENT                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
Representative Chris Tuck, Chair                                                                                                
Representative Andi Story                                                                                                       
Representative Geran Tarr                                                                                                       
Representative Matt Claman                                                                                                      
Representative George Rauscher                                                                                                  
Representative David Nelson                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MEMBERS ABSENT                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Representative Laddie Shaw                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
COMMITTEE CALENDAR                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
SENATE BILL NO. 40                                                                                                              
"An Act relating to veterans' benefits services and veterans'                                                                   
benefits appeal services."                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
     - MOVED SB 40 OUT OF COMMITTEE                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 16                                                                                                   
Encouraging the United States Congress to pass legislation                                                                      
granting the Hmong veterans of the Vietnam War access to the                                                                    
same veteran benefits received by United States veterans.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
     - MOVED HJR 16 OUT OF COMMITTEE                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
PREVIOUS COMMITTEE ACTION                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
BILL: SB 40                                                                                                                   
SHORT TITLE: VETERANS' BENEFITS SERVICES; DISCLOSURE                                                                            
SPONSOR(s): SENATOR(s) REVAK                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
01/25/21       (S)       PREFILE RELEASED 1/15/21                                                                               

01/25/21 (S) READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRALS

01/25/21 (S) STA, L&C 03/04/21 (S) STA AT 3:30 PM BUTROVICH 205 03/04/21 (S) Heard & Held 03/04/21 (S) MINUTE(STA) 03/11/21 (S) STA AT 3:30 PM BUTROVICH 205 03/11/21 (S) Heard & Held 03/11/21 (S) MINUTE(STA) 03/18/21 (S) STA AT 3:30 PM BUTROVICH 205 03/18/21 (S) Moved SB 40 Out of Committee 03/18/21 (S) MINUTE(STA) 03/19/21 (S) STA RPT 4DP 03/19/21 (S) DP: SHOWER, HOLLAND, COSTELLO, REINBOLD 03/19/21 (S) OBJECTION (REGARDING REPORTING OUT OF COMMITTEE PROCESS) 03/19/21 (S) POSTPONE QUESTION TO MARCH 24 Y14 N2 E3 A1 03/22/21 (S) OBJECTION WITHDRAWN (REGARDING REPORTING OUT OF COMMITTEE PROCESS) 03/29/21 (S) L&C AT 1:30 PM BELTZ 105 (TSBldg) 03/29/21 (S) Moved SB 40 Out of Committee 03/29/21 (S) MINUTE(L&C) 03/31/21 (S) L&C RPT 5DP 03/31/21 (S) DP: COSTELLO, REVAK, GRAY-JACKSON, HOLLAND, STEVENS 04/09/21 (S) TRANSMITTED TO (H) 04/09/21 (S) VERSION: SB 40 04/12/21 (H) READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRALS 04/12/21 (H) MLV, L&C 04/22/21 (H) MLV AT 1:00 PM GRUENBERG 120 04/22/21 (H) Heard & Held 04/22/21 (H) MINUTE(MLV) 04/27/21 (H) MLV AT 1:00 PM GRUENBERG 120 BILL: HJR 16 SHORT TITLE: HMONG VETERANS MILITARY RIGHTS SPONSOR(s): REPRESENTATIVE(s) NELSON 04/09/21 (H) READ THE FIRST TIME - REFERRALS 04/09/21 (H) MLV 04/22/21 (H) MLV AT 1:00 PM GRUENBERG 120 04/22/21 (H) Heard & Held 04/22/21 (H) MINUTE(MLV) 04/27/21 (H) MLV AT 1:00 PM GRUENBERG 120 WITNESS REGISTER SENATOR JOSH REVAK Alaska State Legislature Juneau, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: As prime sponsor, provided information during the hearing on SB 40. CHRISTOPHER BLOCK Anchorage, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in support of SB 40. MAI XIONG Anchorage, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Testified in support of HJR 16. VERDIE BOWEN, Director of Veterans Affairs Office of Veterans Affairs Department of Military and Veterans Affairs Anchorage, Alaska POSITION STATEMENT: Provided information and answered questions during the hearing on HJR 16. ACTION NARRATIVE 1:04:18 PM CHAIR CHRIS TUCK called the House Special Committee on Military and Veterans' Affairs meeting to order at 1:04 p.m. Representatives Nelson, Story, Claman, Rauscher, Tarr, and Tuck were present at the call to order. SB 40-VETERANS' BENEFITS SERVICES; DISCLOSURE 1:05:09 PM CHAIR TUCK announced that the first order of business would be SENATE BILL NO. 40, "An Act relating to veterans' benefits services and veterans' benefits appeal services." 1:05:30 PM SENATOR JOSH REVAK, Alaska State Legislature, as prime sponsor, thanked the committee for hearing SB 40 and noted that this bill is for consumer protections for veterans. 1:05:53 PM CHAIR TUCK opened public testimony on SB 40. 1:06:16 PM CHRISTOPHER BLOCK testified in support of SB 40. He said that he is a disabled Air Force veteran who has worked through the Veterans Administration process since 2006. He described his expenses for accessing benefits and expressed his belief that SB 40 would help many veterans. He said that even well-educated veterans need the protection that SB 40 would provide. 1:09:37 PM CHAIR TUCK asked Mr. Block how he knew about this proposed legislation. MR. BLOCK replied that he sits on the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce and is very involved in anything concerning veterans. 1:10:44 PM REPRESENTATIVE TARR asked Mr. Block whether he believes the fine of $1,000 per violation would be appropriate, given how much money he had spent on veterans' benefits providers. MR. BLOCK explained that the provider he used retained a percentage of the benefit as payment. He said that companies may not be deterred by a fine of $1,000, but that getting the information out is an important step in the process. REPRESENTATIVE TARR said that she has often visited organizations such as Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and American Legion and noted that membership in those organizations is "on the older side." She asked Mr. Block whether he had any thoughts on getting younger veterans involved in the organizations. MR. BLOCK replied that since leaving active duty and being involved with disabled veterans, he's noticed the age gap and difficulty in reaching younger veterans. He said that even with involvement in Disabled Veterans of America and Wounded Warrior Project it's difficult to connect, and he's noticed that veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom haven't been able to connect with the VFW or American Legion the way those of the Vietnam War have. He said that it would be helpful to be able to access information outside of the Veteran Services Organizations. 1:17:26 PM CHAIR TUCK, after ascertaining that no one else wished to testify, closed public testimony on SB 40. 1:17:52 PM REPRESENTATIVE TARR moved to report SB 40 out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal note. There being no objection, SB 40 was reported out of the House Special Committee on Military and Veterans' Affairs. HJR 16-HMONG VETERANS MILITARY RIGHTS 1:18:35 PM CHAIR TUCK announced that the final order of business would be HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 16, "Encouraging the United States Congress to pass legislation granting the Hmong veterans of the Vietnam War access to the same veteran benefits received by United States veterans." 1:19:17 PM CHAIR TUCK opened public testimony on HJR 16. 1:19:34 PM MAI XIONG testified in support of HJR 16. She said that it's been more than 40 years since the promise was made and many Hmong veterans have died. 1:21:20 PM REPRESENTATIVE TARR thanked Ms. Xiong. 1:21:36 PM CHAIR TUCK, after ascertaining that no one else wished to testify, closed public testimony on HJR 16. 1:21:54 PM REPRESENTATIVE TARR directed her question to Mr. Bowen and asked whether he knew the number of Hmong veterans who have received some sort of benefit. 1:22:46 PM VERDIE BOWEN, Director of Veterans Affairs, Office of Veterans Affairs, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, replied that 82 Hmong veterans have received documents to get a driver's license. He said that the Hmong veterans are passing away, so the sooner they're able to obtain benefits, the better. CHAIR TUCK expressed his agreement and noted the high mortality rate of Hmong soldiers in battle, and he said, "We couldn't have done it without them." 1:24:06 PM REPRESENTATIVE RAUSCHER said that he supports the bill but questions the existence of a "promise" to the Hmong soldiers, and suggested that extension of veterans' benefits was a "concept" instead of a "promise." He expressed his belief in what HJR 16 is trying to accomplish. CHAIR TUCK asked Representative Rauscher whether he was looking for a document expressing the commitment of the U.S. military to the Hmong. REPRESENTATIVE RAUSCHER said, "I've been trying to find something that points to the fact that we made a promise somewhere, other than a statement ... half a century later." He stated his belief that the intention of HJR 16 is important, deserved, and long-overdue. He said, "The one 'Whereas' in there just seems to bother me a little bit." CHAIR TUCK asked for direction to the 'Whereas' in question. REPRESENTATIVE STORY directed attention to HJR 16, lines 25 and 26, which read, "WHEREAS the Hmong warriors were promised that they would be treated just like 26 other United States veterans;". 1:28:25 PM REPRESENTATIVE TARR said that, since 82 Hmong veterans have received documents to obtain driver's licenses, evidence of service has been substantiated. She then referred to H.R. 371 Hmong Veterans' Naturalization Act of 2000 and said: The law only applied to those who served with a U.S.- backed, Laotian-based special guerilla unit, or irregular forces, and served in the U.S. 'Secret Army' any time between February 28, 1961, to September 18, 1978, and were admitted into the United States through a political refugee status process from Laos, or is a veteran who meets all of the qualifications listed above at the time the veteran applied to enter the United States and was admitted as a refugee. REPRESENTATIVE TARR asked whether Mr. Bowen would like to add anything. 1:30:14 PM MR. BOWEN explained that the naturalization documents of individuals entering the U.S. for political reasons stated whether they were Laotian or Hmong soldiers. Veterans' Affairs has already acknowledged that there was a promise made to Hmong soldiers; it also uses the naturalization documents in determining military burial honors. He further explained that at the end of the Vietnam War, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) flew 3,500 senior officers of the Hmong army, along with their families, from Laos to the U.S. He said that in order to do something of that magnitude, there had to have been a promise made. He said that Jerry Daniels, a CIA operative, had stayed in Thailand after the evacuation of the senior officers to facilitate the transfer of Hmong junior officers to the U.S., but he died before being able to testify. CHAIR TUCK opined that the reaction of the CIA in bringing the Hmong officers to the U.S. expresses that there was a promise given. 1:33:29 PM REPRESENTATIVE TARR moved to report HJR 16 out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal note. There being no objection, HJR 16 was reported out of the House Special Committee on Military and Veterans' Affairs. 1:35:16 PM The committee took a brief at-ease. 1:36:30 PM ADJOURNMENT There being no further business before the committee, the House Special Committee on Military and Veterans' Affairs meeting was adjourned at 1:36 p.m.

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
SB 40 Testimony Received by HMLV 4.25.2021.pdf HMLV 4/27/2021 1:00:00 PM
SB 40
HJR 16 Supporting Document Letter to the Alaska Congressional Delegation 4.27.2021.pdf HMLV 4/27/2021 1:00:00 PM
HJR 16