Veterans a major focus during 2019 session
I am still taking time to reflect on many of the measures passed during the 2019 Legislative Session. I also reflect on that last day. As the hours stretched into the evening, I got a unique perspective on an event that was being prepared for the next day. March 28, 2019 was the last day of session, but March 29 would see Vietnam Veterans and their families visit the Capitol in honor and remembrance of Vietnam Veterans Day.
As I left that last night, I saw the Kentucky-specific traveling exhibit of the Vietnam Memorial Wall display on the second floor of the Capitol Building. It was late, but I stopped to look at that wall and reflect on the 1,105 Kentuckians who were killed in action, imprisoned or missing in action during that war.
We can never do enough to recognize the sacrifices they made and that men and women continue to make here and on battle fields around the world. However, I am pleased with the action we took to provide more economic and educational opportunities for our veterans, even in what is considered a short session. All of these bills were the result of work done by the Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee, which was created specifically to address these issues.
A few bills that we ushered into law will help improve the quality of life for our military families, making it easier for them to transition to civilian life or active duty service at a post in our Commonwealth. HB 356 ensures that military college students retain Kentucky resident status even in the event they are transferred or are required to move out of state. This means that they will always pay more affordable, in-state tuition rate and applies to dependents who are using the GI bill to pay for college.
Meanwhile, we approved legislation that allows military families to pre-enroll their children in our public elementary, middle and high schools before they move here. Since reassignments are often released during the summer, military children often miss the enrollment period. HB 399 will help relieve some of the stress associated with reassignments and help our schools by providing a more accurate picture of enrollment.
Another strong piece of pro-veteran legislation, HB 323, would allow for reciprocal licensure for military spouses who are seeking employment. For example, if someone has a dental hygiene license in good standing from Virginia, the license would also apply in Kentucky.
Making it easier to gain employment is another way we provide more economic opportunity to our military families this session. HB 338 removes the veteran’s civil service entrance exam language and requirement. The bill requires that for an interview to take place, the veteran or spouse applicant must meet the minimum requirement set forth in the job posting. It allows for interview preference to be given to military men and women and their spouses.
I also joined my colleagues in approving legislation aimed at helping our veterans, particularly the oldest and most vulnerable. We approved SB 55 which creates a Green Alert designation to be used within the Golden Alert System when trying to locate and assist a missing veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder or is otherwise at-risk. While often difficult to talk about, a significant number of veterans deal with PTSD or other mental health issues associated with their service and this is another simple step that expands the use of a system we know works.
We passed HB 296 to assist in recruiting nurses to work at one of four nursing homes under the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs (KDVA). It creates a KDVA nurse loan repayment program for registered nurses and licensed practical nurses. The bill specifies loan maximums of up to 25 percent and $10,000 for each consecutive year of full-time employment, not to exceed $40,000 and four years per person.
We want to make sure our retired service members get the best medical care available, and anyone who has had a loved one in a nursing home knows that qualified and caring nurses are the key to quality care.
These are just five examples of legislation that we passed to provide a simple, common sense approach to making the lives of our military members and dependents better. If you are a veteran or are currently serving our country, I would like to hear from you regarding your interest in any of these issues, or other issues you think should be addressed.
Please contact me with your thoughts and ideas on topics we may address in the interim and during the 2020 legislative session. I can be reached here at home anytime, or through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181. If you would like more information, or to e-mail me, please visit the legislature’s website www.legislature.ky.gov.