Task Force on Military and Veterans Affairs Meeting Summary

9/22/2014

Executive Committee Military and Veterans Affairs Task Force Meeting Summary
2014 Legislative Summit – Minneapolis
Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014

The NCSL Military and Veterans Affairs Task Force convened in Minneapolis, in conjunction with NCSL’s Legislative Summit. The task force was presided over by Co-Chair Representative Dan Flynn of Texas. There were more than 60 members and other delegates in attendance as the task force covered what states are doing for military veterans, how partnerships with Department of Defense (DoD) are preserving land around bases, and the economic outlook for defense-reliant communities. Presentations from the meeting may be found here.

Key Issues for 2015

The task force identified the key 2015 state legislative priority as expanding and improving state assistance and services to veterans, particularly in the areas of suicide prevention; providing mental health peer-to-peer programs; preventing and properly handling sexual assault; and expanding employment opportunities, including giving tax breaks to businesses that hire veterans.

State Services for Veterans

The task force heard from Annette Kuyper, director of Military Outreach for the Minnesota Department of Military Affairs. She noted that Minnesota was the first state to establish a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program. The basic concept is to help communities provide the kind of support and services to Guard and Reserve members that active bases offer. When deployed soldiers feel their family is being taken care of, they have better resiliency. Veterans’ needs were surveyed in these areas:

  • Financial literacy
  • Military youth support
  • Accessible health care
  • Community awareness
  • Employment opportunities
  • Support to family

The Yellow Ribbon Program (YRP) goes into communities and asks them to form a committee to address the key issues. Minimum requirements are set. Communities develop an action plan and it is approved by the state. Minnesota now has 210 cities and 26 counties in the program. The first Yellow Ribbon Company was designated in 2009—Target Corp.

Some YRP benefits include:

  • Service members and families attend workshops to prepare for deployment.
  • Resume and interview training while deployed and follow-up when return.
  • Military Appreciation Day at the State Fair.
  • Training for human resources reps on “Military 101.”

Eric Grumdahl, the Minnesota special adviser on ending veteran homelessness, helps coordinate implementation of the state plan to end homelessness called Heading Home. The goal is to end veteran homelessness by 2015. The focus is on housing stability. Their data show the majority of homeless veterans are from the Vietnam era. They have five key strategies:

  • Affordable and supportive housing resources for veterans.
  • Determine veteran-to-veteran approaches to engage them.
  • Form regional teams to make linkages locally.
  • Identify and reach out to homeless veterans.
  • Regional teams meet regularly to discuss cases and form solutions.

Judge Kerry Meyer, with the Hennepin County Veterans Court, summarized with these points:

  • Problem solving courts like these save money, save lives, and helps future generations.
  • The court system works together with treatment providers.
  • Veterans in the system receive regular reviews in court where incentives and sanctions are delivered.
  • There are solid economic reasons to start veterans courts.
  • The impact of deployment on reservists is incredible, including significant reduction in income and not being around to help raise kids.
  • Military sexual trauma victims are part of the veterans court. Also, veterans dealing with drug and alcohol problems.
  • Common crimes include driving while intoxicated and domestic assaults.
  • The veterans court is voluntary, but once a veteran is involved, the program facilitates and pushes veterans to use state and federal, services available to them.
  • Federal pass-through dollars and grant dollars are available to start a veterans court.
  • Veterans court is open to anyone who has worn a uniform. They didn’t have to be deployed, though some courts have a requirement that veterans must have served in combat because the population of need is large.
  • There are 70 active participants in the Hennepin County Veterans Court and 72 percent of veterans who start the program have fewer criminal charges two years after. Of people who graduate, three-quarters have no new charges in next 18 months.

Innovative Land Use Strategies to Protect Military Bases | Case Study of Camp Ripley, Minn.

Kristin Thomasgard, with the U.S Department of Defense, described the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program, which promotes innovative land conservation solutions that benefit both military readiness and the environment by preventing and removing restrictions that inhibit military training, testing and other operations. Program authority stems from Congressional legislation enacted in 2002 allowing the military to enter into cost-sharing arrangements with state and local governments and private organizations to acquire easements or other property interests from willing sellers. Through this cost-sharing approach, REPI has protected more than 314,000 acres of buffer land at 72 locations in 27 states, including Minnesota.

Building on the success of REPI buffer projects in Minnesota, Thomasgard highlighted a new opportunity, known as the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership, which would bring even more federal resources to the state. The goal of the Sentinel Landscapes Partnership is to sustain military readiness, preserve agricultural land and protect wildlife habitat by focusing on areas where these priorities overlap. Camp Ripley, a National Guard training base in central Minnesota, is among five other finalists vying for designation as a Sentinel Landscape this fall.

Several speakers, including state Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Richard Nash, state legislators, and the heads of several state agencies, described various elements of the state-federal partnership in managing the land base of the 53,000-acre Camp Ripley. Through these joint efforts, 30,000 acres of land is now in compatible use status and 122 landowners have entered into agreements. Tom Landwehr, director of the state department of natural resources, provided information on the 65 imperiled species found at Camp Ripley and the importance of the Mississippi River that borders the base. Minnesota Representative Ron Kresha discussed the numerous public benefits that Camp Ripley provides, including hunting and fishing opportunities, and his efforts to support to designation of the base as a Sentinel Landscape.

Empowering State Agency Response to Assist Veterans: The Texas Veterans Commission (TVC)

Kyle Mitchell, with the Texas Veterans Commission, discussed how the TVC is helping Texas veterans more effectively receive federal benefits, especially VA benefits through the State Strike Force and Fully Developed Claims (FDC) Teams. There were 68,000 VA claims in 2012. The State Strike Force set up "Beating the VA Backlog" events, talked to vets and looked up claims right away to get information. The result was a reduced backlog by more than 35,000 cases in first 18 months. The FDC team submitted 15,700 new claims, which resulted in $78 million in retroactive payments to Texas veterans.

Defense Economic Outlook for States and Communities

Michael Gilroy with the Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA) discussed his office’s program to assist state and local governments through various means as they face changes in economic health as U.S defense cuts are made. The Defense budget in recent years has declined very quickly. When reductions occur so quickly, it comes out of procurement accounts. The president's 2015 budget seeks $496 billion for DoD ($45.2 billion less than DoD planned). DoD plans for FY 2016 through FY 2019 currently exceed Budget Control Act caps. With no relief from the Budget Control Act, cuts will occur. The effect in various geographic areas will depend on local reliance on defense industry manufacturers. But the supply chain is more dispersed than in the 1990s so the impact will not be obvious immediately.

The DoD Response is to assist through the availability of grants from the Office of Economic Adjustment to states and local governments for planning and economic diversification in response to DoD actions such as personnel reductions, operation changes and base closings, realignments or expansions. See DoD's Office of Economic Adjustment. He recommended states map the defense supply chain and survey companies on future plans if DoD cuts contracts. OEA will help with this. Then figure out if you have a problem and how your state would react to defense cuts to procurement.

Tim Ford, with the Association of Defense Communities (ADC), discussed the structural problem with the DoD budget. There isn’t enough money to pay for everything, including retirement benefits, personnel, etc. The Defense budget would need to be $1 trillion a year to cover everything. So the impact is big on maintenance and operations. Army communities could be seriously affected by loss of active duty soldiers. There were 570,000 in 2010. If sequestration continues, this number could go down to 420,000 in coming years. His organization sees no congressional support for a BRAC in 2014/2015, but language in House National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) asks for analysis of infrastructure, which is historically first step for BRAC. So the wheels appear to be turning.

What are defense communities doing to be ready and adjust?

  • Broad engagement with all sectors of the community, the state, the industry and the DoD.
  • Funding organizations to take on the challenge.
  • Creating dedicated staff in key agencies.
  • Encouraging partnerships across various sectors to work cooperatively.

The ADC's State Advisors Council is working on an analysis of what states are doing to support installations (he will share with NCSL). For example, Connecticut recently spent $14 million on Navy base, Oklahoma established a job creation incentive program, and Massachusetts issued $177 million in bonds for various projects to support the military. A key opportunity is for communities and bases to share services to reduce costs (libraries, water infrastructure, waste collection, other municipal services, etc.)

He gave these key takeaways:

  • Defense cuts are here to stay.
  • The base of the future will not look like installations of today or yesterday.
  • BRAC is in very near future, possibly 2017. States need to be involved when DoD is considering cutting National Guard. (He was told about NCSL’s resolution opposing cuts.)
  • Game has changed for states in how they support their installations and DoD. It is economic development now.
  • This is the most dynamic period for defense communities in recent years.

The next Task Force meeting will occur in Washington, D.C. as part of the NCSL Legislative Forum on Dec. 9-10, 2104.

Summary prepared by Jim Reed and Jennifer Schultz, NCSL, Sept. 22, 2014