PRESIDING CHAIRMEN: Senator Maynard
COMMITTEE MEMBERS PRESENT:
SENATORS: Slossberg, Fasano
REPRESENTATIVES: Aresimowicz, Alberts, Guerrera, Kalinowski, Nicastro, Sayers
ELWOOD LECHAUSSE: If this legislation were enacted, the section of 27-140 of the General Statutes would be amended to repeal the requirement that the State Treasurer approve bylaws of the American Legion that set forth the procedure for proof of eligibility from the Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines Fund.
As of this date, these bylaws from the American Legion have never been approved.
The DAV supports the proposed language in the legislation as recommended in Connecticut General Statute 27-138 amending the Statute governing the Soldier, Sailor, and Marines Fund that would one, clarify the Treasurer's responsibility for the inventing of the trust assets, and two, distinguish her role from that of other trustees with responsibility for approving benefits criteria.
See attachment one. The Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines Fund is the property of 300,000 Connecticut veterans.
In findings of the State of Connecticut's Attorney General, dated December 14, 2004, it was stated, and I quote, in short, the legislative delegation of these functions to the American Legion was constitutional.
The American Legion's current laws must be about municipal to provide clear eligibility criteria, and those bylaws must be approved by the State Treasurer, end quote.
The State Treasurer has unequivocal fiduciary responsibility for the fund. As presented, the recommended language in Connecticut General Statute 27-138, one, would ensure that the Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines Fund remains as established and shall remain in the custody of the Treasurer as trustee.
Two, all such payments made by the American Legion shall have regulations that set forth the procedure for proof of eligibility for such aid.
Three, the American Legion shall account during the months of January, April, July, and October for all monies disbursed by it during the three months in accordance with chapter 54 of the general statutes.
Four, the American Legion shall implement policies and procedures necessary to carry out the provisions of this section in accordance with chapter 54 of the general statutes.
These enhancements to Connecticut General Statute 27-138 Custody and Administration of the Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines Fund would provide for the preservation of the fund as it exists and continued availability for current and future veterans of the State of Connecticut.
I'll answer any questions you might have.
REP. GRAZIANI: Any questions from the Committee Members? I just want to make a notation, Woody. We did receive testimony from the Treasurer's Office, Denise Nappier, basically what you, you should get a copy of it, basically supporting House Bill 6383 just to give you a little FYI, but you'll receive a copy of that.
We understand your concerns, and if there's no further questions, thank you very much.
Next we'd like to call up General Scorzato, and once again, the General will be here in the absence of Thaddeus Martin.
GEN. STEVEN SCORZATO: My lawyer, Major--
REP. GRAZIANI: Major.
GEN. STEVEN SCORZATO: Good morning, Sirs. You should have a letter from General Martin in front of you, attached to it with the Proposed House Bill 6948 AN ACT CONCERNING STOLEN MILITARY VALOR AND DISCRIMINATION AGAINST MEMBERS OF THE ARMED SERVICES.
With that, there have been cases of people across the country impersonating soldiers, and that's what this bill proposes to prohibit.
The House Bill 6948 would amend section 53-378 Connecticut Statutes which would increase the penalties for fraudulent use of rank from $100 to $500 to $1000 and also a 6-month incarceration.
A second, a new provision would be if you wore military medals and didn't deserve them, would have similar penalties.
And a third and new portion of that would be discrimination against soldiers, for example, if you had political views against the military and did not allow someone to rent a room in your motel or hotel that there would be similar penalties for that, so that's the summary of our proposals.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you, General. Are there any questions from the Committee Members? Yes, Senator Fasano.
SEN. FASANO: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The last statement you said. What was that you said that people are--
GEN. STEVEN SCORZATO: There have been occasions where a person has a hotel or motel, and someone in uniform wants to rent a room, and the vendor says, sorry, we don't kind of rent to your kind here, so find another place to go.
So this would put in a penalty for that kind of discrimination.
SEN. FASANO: Maybe not here, but would you be willing if you know of particular establishments that embarked on a such a pattern, to maybe get that information to the Chairs, I think maybe--
GEN. STEVEN SCORZATO: To my knowledge, there has been a case in Connecticut--
SEN. FASANO: Well, maybe you could pass, I'd be very, personally, I would be very interested. I'm sure the Chairs and this Committee would be extremely interested as to that particular location, so if you could maybe pass that information on to the Committee, and maybe we can talk about it from there.
GEN. STEVEN SCORZATO: Right, that is correct information, Sir, and we will pass that on.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you, and to follow up on Senator Frasano's question, was there any followup dialogue voicing extreme disappointment on that? Did this come from the manager, or was it somebody that was basically, you know, there just covering--
GEN. STEVEN SCORZATO: We'll leave it at that. There's a case in the Attorney General's office at this time.
REP. GRAZIANI: Major Toncho, good morning.
MAJOR TONCHO: The military liaison and also the judge advocate for the military department. The information came to us third party, but it has been an issue, and essentially what ends up happening if a member presents himself as a military, a member of the military, United States Armed Forces, often hotels motels will offer a discount, so our members will ask do you offer a discount for membership in the Armed Forces.
Well, unfortunately, if a private vendor does not want to engage in business with the individual, they can turn them down.
No, sorry we don't serve the military in this establishment. This bill, House Bill 6948 would, in fact, make it a misdemeanor offense.
Currently in law, Connecticut law, you could bring a civil action for that sort of discrimination, but the penalty is minor. It's double damages, so essentially what you'd have to do is prove that you have suffered some sort of loss by this discrimination and bring a civil case against the vendor.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you for your explanation, and one of the things that I find disturbing, I can't fathom anybody saying those remarks, and I can't fathom the negative publicity that hotel or motel would want to incur based on the given environment, so I'd be very much interested to find out the specifics of that as well as our Committee Members.
Thank you for your explanation, Major Toncho. Any questions from the Committee? Yes, Representative Alberts.
REP. ALBERTS: Thank you, General, for your testimony this morning. In the past, there has been an issue, as I'm sure you're aware, that military recruiters have been barred from certain facilities.
Is this proposed language at all an attempt to address that situation?
GEN. STEVEN SCORZATO: I don't believe the language addresses that situation at all, not in this bill.
REP. ALBERTS: Thank you very much, General.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you. Any further questions from the Members? If not, thank you very much for your time. Turn the meeting over to my Co-Chair, Senator Maynard.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just to be sure, are there any other disabled veterans who had testimony to offer today? If not, we'll move ahead then with public officials, and I see the first name, if I'm not mistaken, yeah, Paul Davis, Mr. Davis? Thank you.
REP. DAVIS: Good morning, Senator Maynard, Representative Graziani, Members of the Veterans Committee, a pleasure to be here again.
For the record, I am State Representative Paul Davis from the 117th Assembly District here to testify in support of House Bill 6946 and House Bill 6952, both of which are intended to recognize those who have devotedly served our state.
I'd also like to add to my testimony support of House Bill 6714 regarding a military museum in Middletown and would ask the Committee to consider an amendment adding a military museum in West Haven to that bill.
You all have copies of my testimony which I will not read. I'd just like to highlight the two bills that I am supporting, House Bill 6946 AN ACT CONCERNING VETERANS' BENEFITS FOR CERTAIN MEMBERS OF THE CONNECTICUT NATIONAL GUARD.
The bill provides that a guardsman who completes 20 years of service should be afforded all the benefits entitled to veterans.
They save those specifically designed for wartime or disabled veterans, and I'm talking about the benefits that are afforded by the State of Connecticut.
Secondly, ANC ACT CONCERNING ELIGIBILITY FOR BURIAL IN A VETERANS' CEMETERY, for your consideration, that's House Bill 6952.
In my opinion, those who's endeavored to protect our state and its citizens for 20 years have earned the right and privilege and are entitled to a burial in a place of honor.
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, I ask that you not only look at the enactment of House Bill 6946 and House Bill 6952 not only as providing much deserved recognition for those who presently serve but as an added incentive that can serve to impact retention among our National Guard.
As we look to the future and the time when we will have peace, we will once again need to attract and retain strong-willed, able-bodied service people to answer the future calls of our nation in time of need.
I believe these two acts will help in doing that. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to your Committee today, and I'd be happy to answer any questions.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you, Representative Davis. My apologies, I'm sorry I'm still learning faces in the building, so I've [inaudible]. Any other questions from the Committee? Yes, Representative.
REP. KALINOWSKI: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Representative Davis, good morning.
REP. DAVIS: Good morning.
REP. KALINOWSKI: In your testimony, you indicated reference to House Bill 5094, the military museum, and you suggested the possibility of amendment to the act to include West Haven.
Has any preparations or any, is there any history of such a proposal being offered by West Haven for this, or is it something that you think could be included that we go forward with an additional city or.
REP. DAVIS: I believe that would be the best way to handle it. I think the mayor of West Haven is here today, and he may give you a little bit more information.
It's something I just spoke to him about this morning, and he may have some more details for you.
REP. KALINOWSKI: I think the next elected official up is from Middletown, and will kind of in-depth go through--
REP. DAVIS: Right.
REP. KALINOWSKI: --the Middletown proposal, so if you wanted to hear that, I think it'd be beneficial.
REP. DAVIS: I'd be happy to hear that, and as I said, we do support, and I do support the military museum in Middletown.
REP. KALINOWSKI: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you. Any other questions, Committee Members? Thank you, Representative Davis. Our next testimony will be received from Mayor Giuliano followed, of Middletown, followed by Mayor John Picard of West Haven, Mayor Giuliano.
MAYOR SEBASTIAN GIULIANO: Good morning, Representative Graziani and Members of the Committee.
SEN. MAYNARD: Good morning, one second, since both of you plan on testifying on the same bill, I'd like, you know, the Committee would like to have both of you present so we can ask the questions of each of you, but you'll still be granted to give testimony.
MAYOR SEBASTIAN GIULIANO: Thank you. I have with me Mr. Phil Cacciola who is, I guess, the President of our, Vice President of our Greater Middletown Military Museum.
Good morning, my name is Sebastian Giuliano, Mayor of Middletown, and I am here to speak on behalf of the Greater Middletown Military Museum.
I believe it's House Bill 5094 and House Bill 6714. By way of history, a group of local veterans organized in 2002 with the goal of establishing a museum to preserve the military history of the veterans, their units, and the greater Middletown area.
In 2003, they were granted 501(c)(3) status by the IRS. The city had already committed a portion of a local park as a site for the museum when the idea of locating it closer to the central core was advanced.
The city intends to keep its commitment to providing an appropriate site, and with your help the military museum can become a reality.
The concept includes both static and interactive exhibits, educational and research facilities, and a conference area.
Its location in the central core of the city will enhance its accessibility to visitors and take advantage of its proximity to the excellent entertainment and dining facilities for which Middletown has become famous.
Before I yield to Vice President Cacciola and other members of the museum's board, I would to thank you for your consideration of this worthwhile project.
At this point, I'll turn it over to Phil.
PHILLIP CACCIOLA: Thank you, Mayor. Good morning, I'm Phil Cacciola, Vice President of the Greater Middletown Museum and a retired Army Reserve Officer. I'm here testifying on House Bill 6714.
In late 2002, a group of Middletown veterans got together to begin the process of forming a military museum as a tribute to all veterans and to preserve the military history of our local veterans, their units, and the greater Middletown area.
We were able to organize a board of directors of 15 members representing all branches of the service, officers enlisted, and civilians.
We elected a president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer and in October 2003 were granted 501(c)(3) status by the Internal Revenue Service.
Since then we've been working very diligently to form various committees such as a building committee, a membership committee, a fundraising committee, etc. to move the process forward.
Our president, Ron Organek, a retired Reserve Staff Sergeant with over 21 years service has had a cable access television program, Veteran's Corner, for over ten years in the Middletown area.
He also writes a Veteran's Corner column for the local newspapers. Both the television show and the newspaper columns are very popular and have been advocating veterans' issues since he started.
Through these media programs, Ron was being contacted by many families of deceased veterans who were finding footlockers full of uniforms, patches, awards, and many other items from both the Pacific and European campaigns in World War II and now Korea and Vietnam.
Rather than destroy or throw out of these items, they asked if the items could be preserved or displayed in honor of their loved ones.
This is what sparked the idea for a greater Middletown military museum. Middletown is the hub of the greater Middletown area and of Middlesex County.
It is the birthplace of Generals Mansfield and Sage, the birthplace of General Maurice Rose who was killed in the Battle of the Bulge.
Rose's birthplace on Main Street, Middletown, was designated in 2003 with a plaque indicated this site.
Through our research, we have also found two Medal of Honor recipients, one from Middletown and one from Haddam.
The Connecticut State Veterans' Cemetery is located on Bow Lane in Middletown which attracts many families of veterans who might find a military museum another attraction to visit in Middletown.
The city has many designated veterans' parks such as South Green which is Union Park, Washington Terrace, Veterans Memorial Green, Veterans Memorial Park, and Smith Park which was named after a local resident, Marine Sergeant Thomas Smith who was killed in Beirut in 1993.
There are 12 military organizations in Middletown with 4 auxiliary groups. The greater Middletown area has over 20 veterans' organizations.
There are over 30 military monuments throughout Middletown that have been restored and are being maintained in order to preserve them for future generations.
We have researched these monuments and have the documented history of each monument on file. In the greater Middletown area, there are many other monuments and plaques that have historical significance.
The Greater Middletown Military Museum will be an educational facility offering local residents the opportunity to do historical and military research and to access web pages of the Veterans' Administration to obtain personal information for the veteran.
The museum will have a book and video library, a computer room for research, and a conference room where speakers can be brought in to discuss books, papers, campaigns, and where veterans' organizations can meet.
The concept of the building is to build a five-sided facility, a pentagon, two floors approximately 12,500 square feet per floor that will commemorate the five branches of the military services.
It would provide static displays of donated or loaned memorabilia and displays that would be changed periodically.
Our intentions are for the museum to contain items from the Revolutionary War to the present. We are hoping to participate, partner with the City of Middletown and the Greater Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce in this endeavor.
To provide a facility that will be another economic generator and attraction to the greater Middletown area.
We would like the Regional Tourism office and Welcome Center to be part of this facility and will provide a community conference room for the Chamber for local organizations to meet.
We also will encourage participation from other historical military organizations in the area and conduct the appropriate fundraisers.
Your consideration is greatly appreciated. We have our architect, Steve Nelson, AIE, of the firm of Moser, Pilon, Nelson Architects who can give you a brief description of what the building will look like.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you, Sir.
STEVE NELSON: Good morning.
SEN. MAYNARD: Good morning.
STEVE NELSON: I'm Steve Nelson of Moser, Pilon, Nelson. To start off, I want to show you a rendering of the Veterans' Home. We are currently in the building phase of this project, the Veterans' Home in Rocky Hill.
We are the architects for that project, and the building that is proposed for the veterans is a pentagon for its symbolism and so that each side of the building can represent one of the services.
The blue area is the display area for the museum. The yellow area is the area for education. I'm sorry. The green area is for education, and the yellow area is for the visitor's center portion of the project.
The second level would be for the Chamber, Middlesex County Chamber. Any questions?
SEN. MAYNARD: Any questions from the Committee?
REP. GRAZIANI: Yes, I have one.
SEN. MAYNARD: Yes, Mr. Chair.
REP. GRAZIANI: How big is the facility, square footage-wise you anticipate that--
STEVE NELSON: Twenty-five thousand square foot total.
REP. GRAZIANI: --and that's total, and it's obviously handicapped accessible.
STEVE NELSON: Yes.
REP. GRAZIANI: Right. Has any, I'm sorry, maybe this, a question for one of the mayors. Has anything been outreach for that to help get donations from businesses, things of that nature, to get this project off the ground as far as fundraising, and since this will be obviously part of Connecticut, has it gone outside the scope of Middletown and West Haven, I guess?
PHILLIP CACCIOLA: Well, we haven't talked about West Haven, but we have talked about the going outside the scope of Middletown.
Initially, we wanted this to be a greater Middletown military museum, but certainly that's a consideration.
Regarding fundraisers, I might ask if Larry McHugh can step up. Larry is the President of the Greater Middletown Chamber of Commerce, if that's okay, and he can give you an idea of what the Chamber has done regarding this project, because they are going to be integral part of it, and in fact, we are going to split the building in half.
But we are, we have a fundraising committee, and we are very concerned about raising private funds also.
If I could ask Larry to step up, if that's okay with you guys.
SEN. MAYNARD: That's fine, sure.
LARRY MCHUGH: Good morning everyone. Larry McHugh from the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber is fully committed to this project.
We will go on an aggressive fundraising effort for it. We feel very fortunate that our Chamber has had tremendous activity with the different veterans' group in our region.
Every November we run a Chamber breakfast meeting where we get anywhere from 600 to 800 people honoring our veterans at this function.
It, for us, would be a home that we feel very proud to be with, with all of the different veterans' groups in the Middlesex County area.
We would, from the Chamber's point of view, talk about the number of $300,000 to $500,000, and then on top of that to go out and to raise funds to have different businesses designate areas of that, of the hall, $50,000 on up for various different businesses to create area that they would be named after these businesses.
As you know, we have a tremendous aerospace area. And the other component of it that is very important for us is the Welcome Center.
As you know, I'm very active in tourism in the State of Connecticut. The problem with our Welcome Centers is the, really, the having the personnel there, you know, during the workday, weekends to manage this.
We would take that over from the Chamber's responsibility to make sure that people when they can come in, it will open every day of the week, and people can get in to see it.
Too often museums and places of attractions like this are only open certain hours. The military to all of you, I know, that serve on this very important Committee, is important to every one of the residents not only in the State of Connecticut, but indeed, our nation.
As I, an ex-coach of 21 years, have said constantly, those people in the military are the real heroes of our great nation.
They have stepped forward to give of their time, their energy, their lives in a lot of cases, so we would be honored to have this in the center of the State of Connecticut in Middletown. Thank you very much.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you very much. Committee Members, Representative Kalinowski?
REP. KALINOWSKI: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just wanted to thank the Middletown contingent for appearing here this morning and presenting such valuable testimony.
Middletown has, indeed, in recent years undergone a very positive revitalization, and if this project does go forward, that will increase obviously and be to benefit not only for the Middletown but for the region itself.
So I thank you again for coming today, and as a note we are going to meet with Secretary Genuario and present this particular proposal to him, so I ask for the Committee's approval when we do vote on this to move it along and again thanks again for coming today.
LARRY MCHUGH: If I can just mention that our past two Chairmen of the Chamber are with us, Steve Gorss and Larry Marino.
I mean, if I didn't mention them, I'd be in big trouble, so I want to thank them for their support.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you very much, Sir. Representative Guerrera.
REP. GUERRERA: Thank you, Guerrera. Larry, good morning and thanks for coming out.
LARRY MCHUGH: Good morning.
REP. GUERRERA: First, let me just say that you've done a terrific with the City of Middletown in regards to the economic boom that I've seen out there over the last probably five to six years.
And second, you hit the nail right on the head that our veterans are heroes. They are our American heroes.
They need as much support as we can give them, and it'd be an honor for me as a Member of this Committee and I'm sure everyone here, to get that museum into Middletown, because it's something that they deserve, and I think that the whole entire State of Connecticut deserves that, so thank you for all of what you're doing.
LARRY MCHUGH: Thank you very much.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you, Representative. Any other questions? Yes, Representative Nicastro.
REP. NICASTRO: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Larry, I just wanted to say thank you. Mr. Chairman, I had the opportunity to work with this gentleman with the Mid-Connecticut Workforce Board for many years with 22 cities and towns from Bristol all the way down to Old Saybrook.
When this gentleman, when he says he's going to do something, he does it, and I can testify to that. It was an honor to work with him for many years, and I strongly believe in this as a veteran, and I know that Larry will go out of his way to see to it that this is a major success.
And I just wanted to bring that point forward, because we hear so much testimony, you know, every day of the week and most of it is from the heart, but this gentleman here, when he gets going you know it's going to get done.
It's going to done, so, Larry, thank you for being here today.
LARRY MCHUGH: Thank you very much.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you, Representative Nicastro. Yes, Mr. Chairman.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you, Senator. How, since you are very good at taking on challenges maybe you could resurrect the Purple Heart Museum in Enfield.
LARRY MCHUGH: You know, and that was a shame--
REP. GRAZIANI: You don't have to raise money for that. That was just an observation. I wasn't expecting a response.
LARRY MCHUGH: We'd be willing to look at anything.
REP. GRAZIANI: All right, thank you very much.
LARRY MCHUGH: Thank you.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you and if we could at this time hear from Senator Doyle and Representative Hamm?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: And Representative Serra.
SEN. MAYNARD: Oh, I'm sorry and Representative Serra. Thank you very much.
REP. SERRA: Good morning, Senator Maynard and Representative Graziani. I'm Representative Serra, representing the 33rd District, which is just Middletown, and I always say thank God just one town.
I'm here in support of House Bill 6714, and I think there's another bill that's similar in nature, and I'm not going to belabor.
I think the Committee is well aware of why we're here. I see a large Middletown contingency, the Chamber of Commerce. I see the Mayor.
I'm in favor of this for a couple of reasons. I think we need a military museum here in Connecticut.
And why Middletown? Because we're basically in the middle of the state, and most of the highways come into that area.
In terms of tourism, I think it's a natural. We do need that for Middlesex County and the center of the state, and I just want you to know that I'm fully supportive of this issue, and I think it's a thing that, you know, where all the support I know I have, it's a thing that probably can happen with your support.
Thank you, and I'll take any questions. If not, I can turn it over to my colleagues. Thank you.
SEN. MAYNARD: Representative Hamm.
REP. HAMM: Good afternoon all. It's my first time before the Veterans' Committee. I'm delighted to have this opportunity to speak to you.
My name is Gail Hamm. I'm State Representative from East Hampton, and I have a third of Middletown.
I'm here to show strong support for House Bill 6714 which is the Middletown's delegation's efforts to really establish a military museum with some economic development benefits, the benefits of honoring our veterans in Middlesex County, and to have an interactive kind of approach which has some real educational possibilities as well.
The proposal, as you have heard from our mayor and from Larry McHugh of our Chamber and Phil who has organized the veterans so beautifully in the city.
We have done more than bring you a concept. This plan has legs. The veterans in our community are very excited. They're rolling up their sleeves.
We have broad support across the city and across Middlesex County, and having the Welcome Center component which is what the Chamber brings really allows us to have accessibility more than just your usual business hours and gives it a tourism component.
I ask you to consider, many of you have been here long enough to hear me on the floor of the House talking about the burden that Middletown bears as it relates to Social Services because we are in the center of the state.
We consolidated all of the hospitals, as you know, it's the Connecticut Valley Hospital. We are the facility citing for the Connecticut Juvenile Training School where all of the juvenile offenders of our state go, and so, we certainly have done our share, and I guess.
I want you to think about this as the prime and best center location for our state to do something like this with a military museum.
We also are home to the state veterans' cemetery already, which will be a real asset and will expand the tourism possibilities for all veterans who will come and visit not just from our state but throughout the country who will be able to make a day of it and also enjoy our fine downtown restaurant and renaissance.
We're the right place at the right time, and we have the ability to really pull it off, so I ask for your strong support for House Bill 6714, and I now I turn over to my Senator.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you very much, Representative Hamm. Senator Doyle, nice to see you.
SEN. DOYLE: Thank you. I associate my remarks with all the other officials from Middletown and my colleagues here.
First of all, I'd like to point out House Bill 6714 is a bipartisan bill which is important, and I'm sure Representative Kalinowski would be here with us here, but we know the unwritten rule up here where Committee Members cannot testify on bills before their own Committee, so I know he's here.
He's working for us, so I think it's important that it is bipartisan which is good for the state and good for the Committee and good for the entire Legislature.
I also, the city government is working hard on this. Also, many of you probably are aware that the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce is working on it.
They are, you know, in my experience, one of the best Chambers in the country, and their commitment to this program will really make it move along.
For instance, I, as Representative Hamm mentioned, they're willing to man the hospital. They've, because it would be the tourism center also.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: That word would be staff.
SEN. DOYLE: Staff, oh yes. They will staff it, but they'll provide, in addition to our veterans will be there, they'll provide staff, you know, on 12 hours a day, or much more than, some other museums are limited hours.
I think that'll be great asset to it. So again, I support the funding in the City of Middletown.
I think it's good for the state. I think it's good for our veterans, and it's good for the City of Middletown, so I hope you'll all support that.
And I would just like to, since I am signed up for two other bills, if I could just indulge the Committee. We have two other bills on the agenda.
I have Proposed Senate Bill 280. This concerns funding assistance for homeless veterans. It's a bill that's focused on homeless veterans through the state.
It was brought to our attention. Representative Guerrera is on this bill with me also, and this bill looks to find more funding for our homeless veterans, specifically to also help with the Rocky Hill Veterans' Home and Hospital, so that's an issue I'd like your Committee to please move the bill along.
And the third bill I also introduced is a bill along with Representative Guerrera creating a new, distinct category under our small contractor set-aside bill.
Under current law, we have a set-aside provision for disabled individuals. Now in the past, it's been discussed, why do you need veterans?
We think we should have a separate category for specifically disabled veterans, so that's highlighted, and we can, you know, have our people that serviced us throughout the country and throughout the world, and they give up a great sacrifice.
This would be a wonderful opportunity for them to move forward, give back to their communities, and be given the opportunity to open a business.
So, therefore, I also would ask the Committee to please move along Senate Bill 1020 which other individuals, Mr. Fox, will be speaking for the other veterans.
So again, all three bills are excellent bills for our veterans. I hope you will support them all. Thank you very much.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you, Senator Doyle, and before you leave are there questions from Committee Members?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Just an observation, I want to thank the three of you for giving your time to give, offer public testimony on this, because I know how busy everybody's schedules are and to devote your amount of time tells us that it's serious, and you mean business. Thank you.
REP. GRAZIANI: Yes, Senator Fasano.
SEN. FASANO: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank all three of you for your testimony. Sir, one question I want to ask you on this set-aside program for contractors.
Is there, I understand the concept, would you have a problem if it was somehow relegated among, well, let me ask you two questions.
One, does this deal with municipal contracts as well, or just state contracts?
SEN. DOYLE: No this is current statutory framework for state set-aside.
SEN. FASANO: All right. And there's some talk about the state having municipality adopt the, certain state criteria.
Would it make sense in that case, with respect to veterans, that population of a town, number of veterans in that town be taken in some kind of formula issue, so that smaller towns would not be harmed by.
There may not be a number of veterans or disabled that do, I don't know, masonry work or something. Would that be fine if we tinkered with it in that respect?
SEN. DOYLE: That would be fine with me, but I just, I'm looking at the approach to try to make it as simple as possible, try to apply this new category to the current, existing statutes.
As I understand it, what you're saying, is trying to pull in the municipalities to that, and basically we would insert disable veterans into the current statute.
Then whatever you do on the other side with municipalities is fine, but, you know, our focus is to get disabled veterans in there on equal footing with women, minorities, and the disabled, but it is important to have a separate category. We believe.
SEN. FASANO: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. MAYNARD: Representative Guerrera.
REP. GUERRERA: Thank you. I'd just like to thank the three members that came up here to testify on the bills, and for the people of Middletown, I've also been told that Representative Serra will be the first one to have cannolis at the opening of the museum.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you very much, Representative, anyone else? Thank you all very much for your testimony, appreciate it.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank the whole delegation, and certainly, we just noticed that our Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal entered the room, so Mr. Attorney General, would you be good enough to come up and give your testimony after your shaking hands?
ATTY. GEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: I very much appreciate the opportunity to be with you today, and first of all let me thank this Committee for it's excellent work.
And I will be submitted additional testimony on some of the other measures that you have you before you today, but I will just take, literally, a moment of your time to support one of the measures before you which would create an advocate for Hispanic veterans within the Department of Veterans' Affairs.
I have worked with many of our Hispanic and Latino veterans. They have served this nation proudly.
Many of them deserve that kind of advocate and need one, and I know you'll be hearing from others who can describe the reasons more eloquently and persuasively than I can, but I just want to add my voice in support of that measure, because I think it is an idea whose time has come in light of the, I think, it's 8,100 Latino and Hispanic veterans in the state, in Connecticut alone.
We would do well to have that office. We already have in effect an advocate, but we should formalize and establish is as a definite funded separate part of the Department of Veterans' Affairs, so I thank you for giving me this opportunity, and there are other measures, I know, very important measures before you today.
I don't want to take a great deal of your time with this one. Thank you.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you, Attorney General Blumenthal. Are there any questions or comments? Thank you very much for making the time to appear before us.
ATTY. GEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Thank you very much.
REP. GRAZIANI: And we will resume testimony. I'm sorry, Mayor Picard. We didn't forget you, if you're still here, thank you very much, Sir.
MAYOR JOHN PICARD: Good morning everyone. I want to thank for allowing me to speak here today. I do want to thank the Attorney General to step in there because I want to speak on the Proposed House Bill 6714, and I want to thank the Veterans' Affair Committee, Mr. Chairman, for your time, and all the Members here.
And I want to make it clear, this isn't in competition with Middletown, so I'm glad there was a little break in between.
I think it was said before that our veterans are heroes, and I think we all know that, and as heroes they deserve more than one military museum.
And it's important to remember the past and the work in the present and protect and learn, so we can preserve our, move forward in the future, and our military museum in West Haven that we've been working on has probably been going dating back to 1999 or 2000.
It started with New Haven Regiment 102nd Infantry coming to West Haven asking to build a museum in West Haven, and I've been the mayor for a little over a year now, and I can't tell you if the previous administration has come here before or not, but I can tell you I'm here asking for your help.
The City of West Haven is financially strapped. We have a great amount of indebtedness, over $250 million, and we have a deficit, and while we're doing that we're still trying to preserve out nation's heritage and our nation's history and that's why I'm here today.
A couple of key elements that I want to talk about, the museum's mission is to preserve the materials which have historical significance to the state as a whole, and it's the 102nd Infantry Regiment in particular, and that came about back in the early 1900s when the First and Second Infantry with nothing in between and they joined to become the 101st, 102nd Infantry.
Now I do have a pamphlet that I've, I don't know if everybody has it in front of you, but there's a number of copies.
Just to let you know, we actually have architects who've drawn this dating back to 2002, and the plans are nice, but without action plans end up being plans and nothing ever happens, and I think it's important.
A couple of differences, you know, West Haven is borderline to New Haven. As we all know Yale University Hospital, Yale College, we also have our own college, University of New Haven, so this could be a great learning experience for not only grammar and high schools but colleges.
We have the Veterans' Hospital right, a block away from where this proposed museum would be. There is also, it's the removal of Brownfields.
This building is the buckle shop which actually made buckles dating back to the Civil War. They were the first buckles worn on uniforms.
I'm sure you're all going to read this packet that's in front of you, and I think that's important to understand that, and that's why it's important to hopefully move forward with this.
We can't do it on our own. We have a big contingency of the veterans, and they want our help. They've come to us. We're trying. We have money in own five-year capital plan, but it's not nearly enough, and we have a community.
We already have a building committee that's in place, and we have community that stands behind this 110%. I wish I'd brought them, but I did not.
I think you can understand that as the veterans from Middletown and surrounding areas are important, so are the ones in West Haven.
I think they'd all band together and say that we need more than one just military museum. We have a Vietnam War Memorial that we address every year.
We have the, you know, Veterans' Memorial Day parade that we have every year, so our heritage is rich in tradition and dates back to 1638 which is the first militia that was formed, and at that point it was formed to prevent invasions from the Dutch and the Indians and things of that nature.
As you can tell, this has changed somewhat. Also, there are two Congressional Medal of Honor winners, and there is also a dog named Stubby which you'll see that went on into Germany smuggled on a boat into, on World War I and made a name for himself, and I think the Hartford Courant had that article back in 1998.
So in West Haven, we cover it all, but most importantly is our veterans and our heritage and remembering the past, and there a number of artifacts and pictures and that when you go through this actually moved it on the road one day at our Savin Rock Festival, and it was a Friday night where the winds came and the rain and things were, storms were blowing and the veterans there were amazed at how many people still came out to see it and that was just to let people know where it is.
Not only will it be good for the town and good for the state, it will also be good for economic development.
As I said, we're removing a Brownfield. It's going to. It's two blocks away from our downtown. It's a block away from our Veterans' Hospital.
It could really spur economic development in the area, but more important than that is the history that it will preserve and what it will do for our veterans, and I think that's why it's important not only for Middletown, but also for West Haven.
This is a big state as we all know, and we really could use two military museums, and our veterans do deserve it, and it's not just, you know, the Civil War artifacts or the things we have, but it's also World War I, World War II, Vietnam War, the Iraq war.
It's not just for our veterans in the past, but the ones in the present, but also for the future, and if you look at some of the Congressional Medal of Honor winners from the area and what we're looking to do in some of the pictures, you'll realize that it's, this is a strong effort by the community.
So I want to thank you for the time. I hope I didn't go over my three minute mark, but if I did, I apologize, and if there's any questions, I'd be more than happy to answer them.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you, Mayor Picard. Thank you for your patience as well.
MAYOR JOHN PICARD: No problem.
SEN. MAYNARD: Any questions from the Committee?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Just one question. I understand this is an existing museum that is being relocated, is that the?
MAYOR JOHN PICARD: Actually what we, there is a museum in New Haven. I guess they, the Goffe Street residents came to West Haven back in 1999.
This is how long this has been. Now we're in 2007 which I understand the frustration. Someone came to me from Middletown, and said we've been working on this for seven years.
I think it's the same amount of timeframe, and actually the proposal was done in 2002, but yes it was in New Haven.
We're moving it to West Haven. We kind of have it in bits and pieces, but we don't have it all in one area, and I think that's a discredit to our veterans, and I think we need to have one museum.
So to answer your question, yes, it came from New Haven. We have parts of it now in West Haven.
SEN. MAYNARD: Okay and the other question I had was just, I haven't had a chance to [Gap in testimony. Changing from Tape 1A to Tape 1B.]
MAYOR JOHN PICARD: --square feet, I could, actually 13,000 square feet, excuse me--
SEN. MAYNARD: Thirteen thousand, okay.
MAYOR JOHN PICARD: --yeah, 13,000 square feet, and there' two adjoining properties which, you know, I drove by there last night knowing I was coming here this morning that are pretty much vacant also, so I think for minimal cost the city can expand the park and things of that nature, and it's right on a major, Washington Avenue and Campbell Avenue.
So that's the other side. It's easily accessible from 95. It's right off the rail, so there's a lot of conveniences there also that would make it an attractive site.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you very much.
MAYOR JOHN PICARD: And I understand. How could you have looked through this since I just gave it to you about an hour ago?
SEN. MAYNARD: No, that's all right. I just, taking a quick look, any other questions? Okay, none. Thank you very much, Mr. Mayor.
MAYOR JOHN PICARD: Thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it.
SEN. MAYNARD: Next we'll hear from Representative Kelvin Roldan.
REP. ROLDAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good morning, Representative Graziani, Senator Maynard. With the Committee's permission and indulgence, I'd like to ask Mayor Perez from Hartford and Councilman Torres to join me.
SEN. MAYNARD: Absolutely.
REP. ROLDAN: Thank you.
SEN. MAYNARD: Welcome, Mayor, Councilman.
MAYOR EDDIE PEREZ: Thank you.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you for being with us.
REP. ROLDAN: We are to speak on, in support of House Bill 5799 AN ACT CONCERNING A HISPANIC AFFAIRS ADVOCATE WITHIN THE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS' AFFAIRS.
I am honored to come before you to speak on behalf of the Latino men and women that have defended our nation in every conflict in which the freedom of this nation and that of our allies was at stake.
Those conflicts date back to the founding of this nation to today in the War in Iraq.
I come before you on behalf of the Hispanic-American Veterans of Connecticut, Inc., whom you will hear of a little later in this hearing with much more detail to what we're talking about, and the men and women that will undoubtedly serve in the Armed Forces of the United States in years to come.
Hispanic-Americans have given and continue to give their lives so that all of us can benefit from the freedom that they provide.
They are, there are no statistics available currently to the number of Hispanic-Americans that have died in defense of our nation, but Secretary Jim Nicholson states that that number is quite high.
Although I know that this Committee is certainly no stranger to the issues that these citizen soldiers face on a daily basis, I am also keenly aware that the contributions of Hispanic-Americans at many times go completely unnoticed.
It is my sincerest hope that during today's hearing, the dire needs of Hispanic-American veterans will finally be matched with a face, and I thank the Attorney General earlier for showing up and testifying on behalf of this as well.
I'll just share a few figures. I'm not going to read the whole testimony since it is in front of you.
Currently there are 1.1 million Hispanic veterans in the United States. Over 50,000 men and women are currently on active duty.
Hispanics are recognized as the most decorated ethnic group in the United States' military history receiving 42 Congressional Medals of Honor as a whole.
In Connecticut, there are currently over 261,000 veterans of which approximately are 8,100 are of Hispanic descent.
These individuals suffer from some of the same issues and debilitating circumstances that veterans suffer generally, and again, this Committee is quite aware of what those are, and their families share in their burdens.
The creation of this liaison position or some kind of restructuring within the Department of Veterans' Affairs would allow for these individuals and their families to access services that are currently available to them, but for a number of reasons may not be able to get to them which could anywhere from language barriers issues to just knowledge and cultural competency issues.
At this point, through you, Mr. Chairman, I will yield to Mayor Perez and Councilman Torres.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you, Representative, Mr. Mayor.
MAYOR EDDIE PEREZ: Good morning, Senator Maynard and Representative Graziani and Members of the Select Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
As mayor of the City of Hartford, I am here today to speak in favor of House Bill 5799 AN ACT CONCERNING A HISPANIC AFFAIRS ADVOCATE WITHIN THE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS' AFFAIRS.
Like other speakers, I too, want to add my support to other business before the Committee, mainly Senate Bill 1020, the homeless veterans' act that is before you.
I know that all of you feel as I do that supporting the men and women that serve this country is incredible important given this time in our country, and this is why I'm here today, because of the growing number of our men and women come back from deployment overseas and miss out on the benefits they have earned when defending our country.
One such group of soldiers is the Hispanic-American veterans that has recently organized here in Connecticut.
It is at their request that this bill has been introduced. The bill allows me to support the work of a small group of veterans that decided to become a little more vocal about the needs of veterans, Hispanic veterans here in our state, and I'm sure that their voice will be connected to other veterans, Hispanic veterans across the country.
You have a lot of data that has been submitted as part of my testimony and some of that was introduced by Representative Roldan, so I'm going to be brief.
I'm just going to say that the Department of Veterans' Affairs has a variety of programs that assist the men and women who have served this country, but too often Hispanic veterans because of language barriers, poverty, and other circumstances are now aware or do not have access to the services that the Department of Veterans' Affairs provides.
House Bill 5799 creates a liaison within the Department to advocate for Hispanic-American veterans and their families.
This is a good starting point to help these soldiers overcome the unique challenges of assessing their services that are currently available to them and making sure that they access those services.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, I ask you to join me in supporting this bill, and your support of this bill will improve the lives of countless soldiers that give, that gave to this state and this country what they could give which is service. Thank you.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you very much, Mayor Perez, Councilor.
COUNCILMAN CALIXTO TORRES: Thank you and good morning, Senator Maynard, Representative Graziani, and Members of the Committee.
I am also the Executive Director of the Connecticut Puerto Rican Forum, and we are the fiduciary agency that is supporting the efforts of the Hispanic-American Veterans' Association.
The history of Hispanics fighting on behalf of the freedoms of this country goes a long, long way.
It goes back to Ben Franklin, the American Revolution, the war in Spain, Spanish soldiers, Cuban soldiers, and Puerto Rican soldiers fought to drive the British out of the southern part of the United States.
This weekend, I was visiting my father's grave at the military cemetery in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and to my surprise and amazement, right next to his grave, there is the grave of a Puerto Rican soldier who fought in the Spanish-American War on behalf of the United States.
The accomplishments of the Hispanic veterans in the United States is incredibly honorable. Today, the largest Hispanic, the largest minority group in the United States happens to be Hispanic, and it continues to grow.
Connecticut alone has about 10% of its population who, that are Hispanic, so there, it is inevitable that there will be an increase in the number of Hispanics who will participate in defending the freedoms of this country.
With this, we anticipate a growing number of needs in this community in Connecticut in particular, so we support House Bill 5799 and hope that you also see the need to support this. We feel that it is a move in the right direction.
What I would like to have you consider also is the possibility or the option that the existing group, Hispanic-Americans Veterans' Association might take a greater role in this process at the Veterans' Administration. Thank you.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you very much, Councilor, and thank you all for your testimony. Are there questions from Committee Members?
REP. GRAZIANI: I just have one.
SEN. MAYNARD: Representative, Mr. Chairman.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you very much, Senator Maynard. Just a quick, I guess, a concern. Has something been done even to bounce this up to a federal level, because obviously to handle it within the state is a great starting point, but I think this is something that should be elevated nationally so to speak.
And the other concern I have, is has anyone contacted Commissioner Schwartz to get her idea or recommendations on it?
REP. ROLDAN: At the national level, I am not familiar of any particular organization within the Department of Veteran Affairs that, you know, is called a Hispanic advocate office per se.
There are many, many organizations nationally that work with Hispanic veterans that specialize in this particular area.
For example, there is a Massachusetts organization that is heavily funded and supported by the State of Massachusetts.
The Commissioner has been informed, and she has been working with the group to the extent that she has actually even provided space for the Hispanic Veterans' Association of Connecticut.
So they are working over there, and she has been very supportive and is working with us to this extent.
MAYOR EDDIE PEREZ: Mr. Chairman, I will make it my business to make sure that my, the Congressional Delegation is aware of your concern, and I'll be supportive of trying to connect the two efforts.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you all very much. It's a worthwhile endeavor that should be addressed. Thank you very much for all your testimony.
REP. ROLDAN: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Members of the Committee.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you, and our next testimony will be received from Representative Mikutel and joined by George Violette from Griswold.
REP. MIKUTEL: Thank you, Senator Maynard and Representative Graziani, Members of the Committee. This is the hottest committee room I've been in, in many a year.
I'm here, for the record my name is State Representative Steve Mikutel. I'm here to testify in support of House Bill 5798 AN ACT CONCERNING BENEFITS FOR INDIVIDUALS WHO SERVED IN THE MERCHANT MARINE DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR.
I'm really here on behalf of my constituent, George Violette who is a former Merchant Marine, and George brought this issue to my attention, and I thought it was significant to bring it to your attention, because it seems that anyone who knows the Merchant Marines' service during World War II knows that they've played a vital role in winning World War II and the Battle of the Atlantic.
If anyone knows their history, they suffered significant amount of loss of life, casualties during that period of 1941 to 1945, and they are not considered veterans in the definition of the word veterans, and therefore, they do not receive the benefits that those veterans do.
So this bill in essence extends the veterans benefits for individuals who served in the Merchant Marine during the Second World War.
Now I'd like to just ask George, if you would, do you want to say anything George?
GEORGE VIOLETTE: Good morning. I'm one of the old guys that are still left from the Merchant Marine World War II, and I'm a young one, 80 years old.
Most of them have died, and I have a lot of friends throughout this state that I've become very friendly with and helped them get their veteran's benefits, and I'm pretty well known when it comes to the Merchant Marine.
And I go to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and we have ceremonies down at New London Fort Trumbull.
I was involved with, there's a, had a nice monument put there in honor of the Merchant Marine that died from the State of Connecticut.
I want to mention that, because I've had a lot of problems in getting people to go along with me and put it in the papers, publish it so that the people of the State of Connecticut would know that the Merchant Marine hasn't been forgotten.
There are 203 names on the different stones that set there, and every Maritime Day which is May 22, we have a ceremony there, and what I would like to remind the people of Connecticut is they should not forget what the Merchant Seamen did in World War II, because when President Roosevelt asked the people not to forget the Merchant Marine when they put the GI Bill of Rights together, but somehow it was pushed aside, and in 1978 the federal government recognized the Merchant Marines as veterans, declared us as veterans, and gave us veterans' status in many ways.
We can go to the VA hospital. Now there are other states throughout the country that have even gone so far as to give each veteran that served in the Merchant Marine a bonus like they did the GIs.
I'm not here to ask for that. I am here to support this bill, House Bill 5798 that Steve has spoke to me about.
And in regards to the old timers in the state, they can derive benefits with their property tax, and one of the benefits they can get from the federal government.
I would like to see the State of Connecticut equalize the benefits they offer the Merchant Marine veterans the same as the federal government has, and I don't think that is asking too much.
We have a bill in Washington. I'd like to draw this to your attention. Perhaps some of you are aware of it.
There is a bill there that is going to make up for the loss that the Merchant Marine veterans lost in the GI bill.
So the bill hasn't been passed like this bill hasn't been passed, but it seems that the last 10 or 15 years, I've been pointing for benefits for the Merchant Marine, and these old fellows are dying off day after day after day.
We're getting, I don't know how many we have in the State of Connecticut. I think if we have 50 men left, we'd be high, pretty well high rated, so I would like to have you check the bill and follow along with the bill that is in Washington and see if the State of Connecticut can't come up to what the national organizations are doing throughout the country.
I want to thank you for your time.
SEN. MAYNARD: Mr. Violette--
GEORGE VIOLETTE: I wish, one thought I'd like to bring out. I wish my older brother were here, because I think he could help me. He used to be a State Senator, probably saw it in this room.
He was from Bristol. His name was Woodrow Violette, and he was the politician. I'm not a politician. I don't really want to be, so your spots are safe, but I just want to mention to you that if he were here, he would vouch for everything that I have said about the Merchant Marine. Thank you again.
SEN. MAYNARD: Mr. Violette, you're joined by a very capable State Representative and politician will do well to champion this effort. I want to say personally, I appreciate your efforts.
My father was a member of the Merchant Marine during the Second World War and would be 88 if he were with us today, so I'm very familiar with the cause, and I appreciate your advocacy on that.
GEORGE VIOLETTE: Thank you.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you. Are there questions for, Representative Mikutel?
REP. MIKUTEL: I just want to thank you for your time, and I leave this issue up to the Committee who I'm sure are very knowledgeable, and I'm sure will do the right thing. Thank you.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you very much for joining us. Any other questions? Oh, yeah, Representative Graziani.
REP. GRAZIANI: Steve, it's always great to see you, and we understand the fight for recognition.
I mean, it's so hard. Look at members of the U.S. Coast Guard for the longest time, even on the monuments that are put in around the states to honor our veterans, and some of them have omitted the Coast Guard, and they serve admirably even in Vietnam as well.
So we know the plight you're up against, and what both of you had to say really hits home.
GEORGE VIOLETTE: The Merchant Marines are still busy doing everything we need in Iran, Iraq.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you very much, and I will hand the gavel over to my colleague here.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you for passing the gavel, Senator. Now we'll open up the next section for elected officials and state agency head.
With that, why don't we begin with the Commissioner of DAS, is Meg here?
MEG YETISHEFSKY: Better clarify that promotion.
REP. GRAZIANI: My have you changed.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: I think there's been a promotion.
REP. GRAZIANI: You'll have to talk to the Controller about that one.
MEG YETISHEFSKY: Good morning. Good morning, Senator Maynard, Representative Graziani, Members of the Select Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
My name is Meg Yetishefsky, and I am the Director of the Set-Aside Program at the Department of Administrative Services.
I am here to speak to you about Proposed Senate Bill 1020 AN ACT CONCERNING DISABLED VETERANS' PARTICIPATION IN THE STATE SET-ASIDE PROGRAM, and to provide some information about the existing program.
Connecticut' Set-Aside Program was created to increase the business opportunities for Connecticut's small and minority owned business.
State Agencies set aside 25% of their construction, housing, rehabilitation, supplies and service, and service contracts for certified small businesses each fiscal year with 25% of these contracts or 6.25% of the total earmarked for minority owned business.
To qualify as a minority owned small business, the business must first meet the following conditions.
It must have been in business under the same ownership and management for at least one year. It must have its principal place of business in Connecticut.
Its gross revenues must be $10 million or less, and at least 51% of its ownership is held by one or more persons of a minority group who exercise operational authority over the daily affairs of the business, has the power to direct the management and policies, and receives the beneficial interests of the company.
Currently, the definition of minority owned businesses includes individuals with disabilities but does not include veterans generally or disabled veterans specifically.
In an effort to reach out to veteran population, a month ago I began to work with VET BIZ NOW!, which is a pilot program initiated by Gateway Community College, Congresswoman Rosa Delauro's office, the Federal Small Business Administration, the Connecticut Secretary of the State's Office, and Connecticut Department of Veteran Affairs, among others.
The goal of VET BIZ NOW! is to make veterans more aware of the business development resources available to them focusing in the greater New Haven area.
As part of this outreach effort, DAS has begun to gather statistical data regarding the veteran owned businesses here in Connecticut.
Our Set-Aside application form now includes the question, are you a veteran owned business as defined by the federal government.
To date, 18 of the companies certified by the DAS Set-Aside Program have identified themselves as being owned by a veteran.
If the Legislature, intends to create a separate category for disabled veterans in the State Set-Aside Program, DAS respectfully submits that there are a few key issues that should be considered.
First the term, disabled veteran, should be clearly defined. The Federal Small Business Administration has a program for small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans and defines service-disabled veteran as a veteran with a disability that is service connected as documented by the Department of Veteran Affairs on the individual's discharge papers.
Operationally, it makes sense to have Connecticut's definition of disabled veteran mirror the federal definition.
Additionally, although DAS is more than willing to collect data on the number and types of Connecticut based small businesses owned by disabled veterans, we do not currently possess that information.
To the extent that the Legislature intends to create a separate and distinct set-aside goal for disabled veterans asking all state agencies to purchase certain percentages of their goods and services from companies owned by disabled veterans, it is critical that we first know whether there are enough qualified vendors to meet those goals.
Finally, set-aside goals exist in order to create, to eliminate past or current barriers that prevent small and minority businesses from fully participating in the procurement process.
Generally speaking, a disparity study is conducted to determine whether a particular group has experienced such barriers before that group is included in a set-aside program.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you, and I am happy to answer and questions that you may have.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you for appearing before us. Just a couple of questions, it's currently not written the statute that veterans or disabled veterans, correct?
MEG YETISHEFSKY: Correct.
REP. GRAZIANI: All right. What would it take, in your opinion? Because we do have our Commerce Department, we have DECD to help get these businesses started up, and I understand that one of the qualifications here that you must have been doing business under the same ownership and management for the least, for at least one year.
I guess. How do we address getting the startup going, so they that A would be able to get onto the state's qualified contracting list, any thoughts on that?
MEG YETISHEFSKY: Wait, the statute clearly states it's, you have to be in business for one year, and I believe the history on that because we wanted to work with businesses that are not startup.
There is other resources such as the Connecticut Economic Resource Center out of Rocky Hill that does work with small businesses to get them started through that first year. So after that first year, they would be qualified under the state set-aside program.
REP. GRAZIANI: Now do you feel something like, particularly with disabled veterans that want to have a so-called check off box on the bid process to let them know they're out there, that they are a disabled veteran, opposed to a regular just a blind bid not knowing that they're dealing or will receive a bid from a disabled veteran's organization. Any thoughts on that?
MEG YETISHEFSKY: That really refers to the bidding process. As I mentioned, I am the Director of the Set-Aside Small Business Program, so as far as the certification process, you know, as I mentioned, we could collect that data and are currently collecting that data right now on our application to be certified as a State of Connecticut small business which would then afford that company the opportunity to bid on those contracts that are set-aside.
REP. GRAZIANI: You said you're collecting that data?
MEG YETISHEFSKY: We are, we just began to collect some of that data right now, but currently we are only collecting data as it relates to veteran owned not disabled veteran.
If that is something that you would want us to do, we can certainly do that.
REP. GRAZIANI: Right, since you're going through the process of collecting data, I think it'd behoove us to go ahead and pursue that as well. Do you have any idea what the timetable for the presenting us with some data?
MEG YETISHEFSKY: We just began to collect that data through my collaboration with VET BIZ NOW!, and I started that in August of this year, so.
REP. GRAZIANI: What's normally the cycle, best guess, eight months, a year?
MEG YETISHEFSKY: You know, we just started to collect that. I can collect it for a year, you know, again, I think what we want to do is make sure that there is a viable pool of applicants that meet that criteria, and right now, I only have a few months of data, so we'd have to wait and see.
REP. GRAZIANI: Right. I understand you concern, and rightfully so, to collect that data, but we just want to get a sense of feeling, I mean, the data that you have now, I don't know if it's 10% of what you planned on obtaining.
I'm just trying to get a sense of feel, because as you know as well as I in this building things linger and linger and it falls off the radar screen, and I certainly want to see, as I'm sure the other members do, when we could see some tangible, measurable data, so we can make a best educated decision on how to proceed, and certainly if you need more time to get back to us that's understandable, but I'm not a big one to leave things open ended, I guess that's what I'm saying.
MEG YETISHEFSKY: I understand.
REP. GRAZIANI: And I was just curious if, even if it's one of these, because right now it sounds like you've collected minimal data.
MEG YETISHEFSKY: That's correct. As we just started to collect that data as of August, so it's only a few months, so we don't have a lot of data. We could continue that and get back to you, you know, in six months from now.
REP. GRAZIANI: Yeah, we'd appreciate a little benchmark, because it sounds like we've been doing it for six months now, and so maybe if you can get back to us whatever data you have collected at eight month time giving you two more months, then present it what you have, data presently with the stipulation that more data is expected if you'd be agreeable to that.
MEG YETISHEFSKY: Absolutely.
REP. GRAZIANI: All right. Thank you any other questions? Yes, Senator Maynard.
SEN. MAYNARD: I'm curious about. I'd like to get a little additional information about the concern over the number of qualified vendors to meet the goals, if you could elaborate a little bit on that.
What do you have as targets now, how does that function, and where might we run into difficulty?
MEG YETISHEFSKY: I mentioned that because it is my understanding that traditionally when you set up a side-aside or a goal for a set-aside for a separate category, you need to have some statistical data to substantiate that.
In fact, that population that you're looking to target has had some disparate impact, so traditionally a disparity study is done.
And as part of that disparity study, you would collect data similar to the data that Representative Graziani had mentioned that DAS can currently start collecting as far as, as companies come through the state Set-Aside Program now, just by asking that question, are you eligible under the definition of service disabled.
So we can start gathering that statistical data to see what type of numbers we have in Connecticut as far as companies owned by service disabled.
Then you would be able to determine the viable pool, and then from there possible incorporate that into some disparity study to prove that, that in fact, we do need a set-aside because of the fact that, that population has been disparate through some procurement process.
SEN. MAYNARD: Yeah, I guess I'm wondering what is a minimum level that one in your experience, where does it create a difficulty if you're a below a certain benchmark?
MEG YETISHEFSKY: It, yeah, there's not one benchmark. You would have to be able to do the disparity study to come up with that benchmark, quite frankly, and then you would be able to determine should it be 5% set-aside, 10% set-aside.
But you have to have the statistical data first in order to even setup those benchmarks, and right now I wouldn't in good conscience be able to give you that number because we don't have the statistical data to get to that benchmark, quite frankly.
SEN. MAYNARD: Understood. Thank you very much. Appreciate that.
MEG YETISHEFSKY: You're welcome.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you. Any other questions from the Members of the Committee? If not, thank you very much.
MEG YETISHEFSKY: You're welcome.
REP. GRAZIANI: Next we have, let's see where's my list here, Lucy Hernandez.
LUCY GOICOECHEA-HERNANDEZ: Goicoechea-Hernandez.
REP. GRAZIANI: Close enough, right?
LUCY GOICOECHEA-HERNANDEZ: I wanted, I wrote it down to see if you'd try and say it.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you very much for your testimony.
LUCY GOICOECHEA-HERNANDEZ: Okay.
REP. GRAZIANI: No, I'm sorry. Go ahead, I'm sorry about that.
LUCY GOICOECHEA-HERNANDEZ: Good morning, Representative Graziani and Senator Maynard and Members of the Select Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
I am staff to the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, and I'm here this morning to present testimony for our agency director, because he's testifying at another hearing in in-state tuition.
I will read his testimony to you. I am here to testify on behalf of House Bill 5799 AN ACT CONCERNING A HISPANIC AFFAIRS ADVOCATE WITHIN THE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS' AFFAIRS.
The State of Connecticut has about, approximately 261,000 veterans of which 8,100 are of Hispanic origin.
It is my belief that the Hispanic-American Veterans of Connecticut, Inc. can help the Connecticut Department of Veterans' Affairs ensure that this segment of the population is informed of their right to services and benefits to which they are entitled for their service in any one of the military branches of the military.
Having a Hispanic Affairs Advocate Office under the Department of Veterans' Affairs will give the Hispanic community in Connecticut access to a wealth of information that may not be currently getting to those veterans for a number of reasons.
It could be that State Department of Veterans' Affairs may not have the personnel to be able to provide the information in a culturally appropriate fashion, or it could be that the community itself is not aware of the existence of the agency where the information is offered.
I believe that in order to provide those services that Hispanic veterans desperately need such as health care access, PTSD screening and treatment, employment referrals, etc. that there has to be a mechanism in place to funnel that information into this particular community.
The Hispanic-American Veterans of Connecticut, Inc., a group comprised of Hispanic veterans from all branches of the service can achieve this in collaboration with the Department of Veterans' Affairs.
This is a newly formed organization that has grown rapidly since its three-month inception and who are ready and willing to provide access to these and more services for the veterans and their families.
While the veterans themselves may be English fluent, this does not necessarily imply that their family members might be as well.
This is another area they wish to reach out to. If their beloved one is currently serving, it is difficult for the family to be aware and participate in any services that the State Department may offer them due to the language barrier.
I urge you to give favorable vote to Representative Roldan's proposal House Bill 5799 for this position or unit within the Department of Veterans' Affairs on behalf of Connecticut's Hispanic veterans.
I urge favorable passage of this legislation and thank you for your careful and compassionate consideration to provide needed services to those among us who honorable and selflessly served or are currently serving far away from their family and loved ones at this time.
And I want to tell you that it was very hard for me to contain my enthusiasm a little while ago when we had first the Attorney General come forward and speak on behalf of our little bill and for the Mayor and the Councilman from Hartford.
REP. GRAZIANI: That is terrific, and thank you very much for your sense of humor with me, and it's not a minor thing by any stretch of the imagination. This is a major thing, and you should be applauded.
LUCY GOICOECHEA-HERNANDEZ: I also wanted to thank you Representative Graziani for suggesting that we go federal, because I think it is very much, it's time has come. Thank you.
REP. GRAZIANI: No, thank you. The last one on our list for state agency is John, or Jack Monahan, Administrator of the Soldier, Sailors, and Marine Fund.
JOHN MONAHAN: Good afternoon, Senator Maynard, Representative Graziani, and precious few distinguished Members of the Committee. However, we will proceed.
I'm here in support of the adoption of Proposed House Bill 6383 and House Bill 6102. These are two pieces of legislation which effect the Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines Fund, and one of which would be to clarify the role of the Treasurer of the State of Connecticut in oversight of the agency, and the second, expanding the ability of the Governor to react to economic dislocations by the request of additional funding for the agency.
I have submitted written testimony, as has the Treasurer Nappier of the State of Connecticut as well as an addendum to that is the proposed language to be adopted.
All of these, the language itself and the bill, has been closely coordinated with the Office of the Treasurer, and so I will focus, given the fact that I have submitted written testimony, on House Bill 6102.
I think the written testimony is sufficient, however, House Bill 6383, I believe I would like to speak on for a moment if you will indulge me.
The legislation seeks to modify 27-140 governing the operation of the fund. The proposal would, if adopted, clarify the role of the Trustee of the Fund, the Treasurer of the State of Connecticut, and the role of the American Legion as expressed in its bylaws with regard to the operation of the Fund.
27-140 requires payments made under authority of the bylaws of the American Legion Department of Connecticut by the Fund.
The bylaws were to be approved by the Trustee, then known as the Board of Control, today the State Treasurer, and were, in fact, duly adopted, initially in 1920 with an additional modification to the Composition Board in 1948 and a further modification bringing the State Fund to seven bodies in 1952.
So the notion that bylaws were never approved by the State Treasurer is factually incorrect. During the productive meeting that we held chaired by, in fact, the Chairman, Chairman Graziani, with the Office of the Treasurer's staff, we went through, essentially, the provisions in question and coordinated a mutually agreed solution to the issue.
The issue being that the Office of the Treasurer's core competency is the maintenance and management and investment decisions regarding the corpus of the Fund, and our day-to-day bread and butter and core competency is to provide the necessary assistance to our needy veterans in accordance with the statutes.
The proposed legislation merely clarifies that the Trustee would continue investment management decisions, would transfer money to us for our operation use as is now the case, and the reporting instead of to the Trustee would be to the Governor and General Assembly on a quarterly basis.
And therefore, I think this solves an issue where the Treasurer, who by the way generated this initiative, focuses on their core competency, and we focus on our core competency which we, we're frankly pretty proud of, and we think we do a reasonably good job it, being now our ninth decade of this kind of service to our veterans of Connecticut.
And so I urge you to adopt these two pieces of legislation. And before I subject myself to questions, I would be remiss in the extreme if I did not also urge your support of House Bill 6714, being a resident of Middlesex County myself and a member of the Chamber.
I'll probably get beaten up if I don't at least say that the proposal for the Middletown Military Museum is, I think, proper, and I urge you to support it, and I thank you for your time, and I would be pleased to answer any questions.
REP. GRAZIANI: I was going to ask if there's any questions for the Members of the Committee, but it looks like you and me boss, it's, I don't have any.
JOHN MONAHAN: Well, it's of course a pleasure to see Senator Maynard finally up and running and in front of us, and so that alone is sufficient to make my day.
SEN. MAYNARD: Oh, thank you very much. Thank you. I have no questions.
JOHN MONAHAN: Thank you very much for your time.
REP. GRAZIANI: Are there any other state agencies here? All right. With that, I guess I'll turn it over to the good Senator. We'll go into the public forum.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The next three names we have are Michael J. Fox. Pardon me for deciphering a bit of handwriting, Gerald Dierman and Paul Barry. Mr. Fox, a pleasure to see you.
MICHAEL FOX: Pleasure to see you up and about, Senator. Would your indulgence, I'd like to ask Co-Legislative Chairman, National Committee Member, and 3rd District Commander, John Hollis to sit with me and make a few comments.
And thank you for hanging in there, but then again you two almost have to hang in there, so as I said my name is Michael Fox.
I am the Legislative Co-Chairman of the Veterans of Foreign War Department of Connecticut. I am Vietnam veteran with a service-connected disability.
Before I speak on Senate Bill 1020, I'd like to say that I had intended on making some comments on some of the other proposed bills.
However, I think there's been quite a, plenty of comments, I don't remember whether you've received my comments in the packet for today's testimony.
If not, you will within the next couple of days, and I'm sure comrade Hollis has a couple of things to say about that too. Thank you.
All right, as I said, I've come before you today to testify in strong support of Proposed Senate Bill 1020 which is AN ACT CONCERNING DISABLED VETERANS' PARTICIPATION IN THE SET-ASIDE PROGRAM for small contractors, the State Set-Aside Program.
I want to thank the Committee for raising this bill and allowing the proposed to be considered by the Legislature.
Along with that testimony, I have also submitted for your consideration joint substitute language that will provide a framework and some teeth, and that is an act establishing the Connecticut Service Disabled Veterans Enterprise Program.
There is also a summary of the bill and a study which was prepared by Woody Lechausse from the DAV who is also on board with us.
This bill would allow for Connecticut service connected disabled veteran business owner, and I think that's the key word, service connected.
And if I may digress from the text when I say service connected, the definition we use for service connected would be a minimum of 10% disability as compensated and as certified by the Department of Veterans' Affairs which actually sets the disability.
If you're discharged on a disability whether it be medical or anything else, the Veterans' Administration would determine the extent of that disability.
The California law on which this is based and federal law, I believe, uses 10%.
Such a business owner would have to own at least 51% of the business and have operating responsibility for the business and be a Connecticut resident at the time he's in business.
As I said, the federal government and Public Law 106-50 which is titled Veterans Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development Act of 1999 and the State of California, as I said, was the first to establish the DVBE, Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise program.
We would hope that Connecticut would follow their lead and establish such a program which I think would be worthwhile.
Now more than ever we need to recognize and support our service-disabled veteran owned businesses in Connecticut.
This is a particularly important issue because of the 1000's of Connecticut Reserve and National Guard personnel who serve in war zones, many of who will soon become vital participants in our Connecticut economy when they return to civilian life, and a lot of them won't be able to go right back to work.
A recent study of the Office of Advocacy of the U.S. SBA found that service disabled veterans are self-employed at a rate significantly lower than the veteran population as a whole.
The discrepancy is about 25% to 50%. Most of the lower self-employment rate of service-disabled veterans is, of course, due to their service disabilities that hindered their ability to work.
Those that have risked their lives and suffered disabling injuries during their combat should be thanked for their service, and our State Government should do all we can to assist them in growing their businesses and encourage greater economic opportunity for them and their families.
As I said, you have the substitute language, and in the language we've set a goal of 5% of all state contracts and services to be set-aside for SDVBEs.
It would, this would be a goal as the Representative from the DAS said, not a mandate, but it was, it is suggested that agencies and decision makers would every effort to comply with this goal.
Another recommendation is that there should be provisions that if the minimum goal is not met, the State Agency should, must provide their reasons for not meeting the goal, and an implementation plan for future SDVBE participation.
It's time now, I think, to provide some small business solutions. Once the start up is in effect, and the disabled veteran is in business, I think it behooves the state to make sure that they are on the top of the list for set-asides for state contracts.
I think it was, I don't know what, the Senator or Representative that talked about municipalities, we are talking here about state contracts, and I don't know we'd go about, you know, getting it down to the municipal level, but I guess that would be between you and the DAS.
So on behalf of disabled veterans and all the veterans in this state, I want to thank you for allowing me to testify, and I would like now to turn the mic over to Mr. Hollis.
JOHN HOLLIS: Good afternoon. It's an honor to sit with my Co-Chair Michael J. Fox, and by the way, I loved you in Back to the Future, and I look forward to seeing your films again.
Again, my name is John Hollis, and I wear two hats. I'm with the teamsters unions, and I wear this hat as a veteran [Gap in testimony. Changing from Tape 1B to Tape 2A.]
--and when I do, and I wear this as often as I can. I serve as the Veteran's of Foreign War Third District Commander, and I'm also a member of the Veteran's of Foreign War National Committee representing Connecticut.
I extend my, our best wishes from State Commander Stanley Borusiewicz. We continue to meet as a Legislative Committee to help advance very important legislation to help all veterans.
Your Committee bills today are a big step in serving veterans that are now and before serving us, protecting our rights, and the very freedoms we have in Connecticut and in this country.
All your proposed bills are important, I've singled out a few I'd be honored to add my name to, Proposed Senate Bill 945 AN ACT CONCERNING HOUSING ASSISTANCE FOR VETERANS, Proposed Senate Bill 742 AN ACT CONCERNING A VETERANS' HEALTH REGISTRY, Proposed Bill 280 AN ACT CONCERNING HOUSING ASSISTANCE FOR HOMELESS VETERANS, Proposed House Bill 6948 AN ACT CONCERNING STOLEN MILITARY VALOR AND DISCRIMINATION AGAINST MEMBERS OF THE ARMED FORCES, Proposed House Bill 6384 AN ACT CONCERNING TRICARE MEDICAL BENEFITS FOR MILITARY PERSONNEL, Proposed House Bill 5094 AN ACT AUTHORIZING BONDS OF THE STATE FOR A MILITARY MUSEUM AND MIDDLESEX COUNTY WELCOME IN THE CITY OF MIDDLETOWN.
I felt also obligated to put in a plug for that. We certainly would like to see a veteran's museum in the center of the state, and we certainly support that effort.
And we also thank you, this very, very significant Committee, for all you do and the efforts you put forth as a Committee in advancing these very, very significant pieces of legislation that I think is some, long overdue.
I look forward to working with you on any of these causes or any of these bills and issues. I know my Co-Chair will be available if we can lend any assistance at this point moving forward.
I do some stuff in Washington as well. I'll be going there for a national legislative convention March 4 - 7, and I certainly convey to our friends in Washington the efforts that take place here in Connecticut.
I also have the honor to serve as Congressman John Larson's Labor Coordinator all these years, but I'd like to switch that hat and ask him if I can be his veteran's coordinator.
I think I'd be very proud to serve in that capacity, so again we're here for you guys. I think this is a joint effort for all of us in this room.
I think it's important that we work together, you know, we know these bills are going to get out of this Committee. That's almost a guarantee, and it's also been a promise.
Our really, work begins when it gets outside this room, and we hope to assist you to talk to the other Committee Chairs so that we can get this very, very significant legislation passed.
So again, we're a resource. Please tap into our help and your support, and we look forward to working with you. Thank you very much for this opportunity.
MICHAEL FOX: Yes, thank you. And what John means by assisting you and helping you, that means you have twisting the arms of Appropriations and Public Health and everything else. Any questions, gentlemen?
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you very much, John, Mr. Hollis, and Mr. Fox, and, yes, I'd open up to any comments. Thank you.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's great to see both of you again, and obviously, both of you are never bashful.
You know how to get a hold of us and speak and you should be admired for that. The set-aside program, obviously, is a very valid, worthwhile cause to do it.
It shouldn't be the exception. It should be the rule, so the onus will be on the Legislature to make sure, in fact, we can do it in a workable way, and more importantly that it has to go forward permanently, and once again I can't stress, and DS is still here.
We need that information, because that will help the foundation to how we attack this, so once again we offer the same thing.
If you ever need to get a hold of us, you know, both of you gentlemen can.
MICHAEL FOX: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
JOHN HOLLIS: Thank you. We salute you guys. Thank you very much.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you very much, and thank you for your continued advocacy. Next, Gerry Dierman.
GERALD DIERMAN: Good afternoon, Senator Maynard, Representative Graziani, and Members of the Committee.
My name is Gerald Dierman. I am the retired Administrator of the Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines Fund, and I'm also a past Department Treasurer of the American Legion, and I'd like to thank you for allowing me the time to speak to you on Proposed House Bill 6383.
First, let me point out that my testimony is with you, but let me point out to you that we do have, we are under public scrutiny, the Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines Fund.
The Department of Public Audit audits us on a routine basis, and I'm always amazed that they decide that they want to come in at three years instead of every year, and the reason they do that is that our agency is well run.
They have yet to find any misdoings at all, and for that I thank our current administrator and past administrators can be justly proud of.
The one section that sticks apparently with everybody is quote, unquote, the bylaws. Those bylaws have been around, as you heard, since the 1920s, and here we are in 2006-2007, and somebody decides, well, it's not working, well, it worked all these years.
Why isn't it working now? I can't honestly tell you, but the fact of the matter is that it does work.
We did submit a draft of our bylaws to the AG's office. We received an opinion, a written note, from one of the Assistant AG's that in his humble opinion, the draft of our bylaws met the spirit of the legislation.
Part of our problem is that we are a veteran's agency, but we're more of a social service agency.
We don't fit what you would view as a normal social service agency. We go about assisting needy wartime veterans, their families, and their surviving spouses in a very quick and efficient and quiet way, and to that end that assistance has never been brought in, the levels of assistance and how we determine it has never been under scrutiny.
It's never been under attack that by those that go ahead and look at our agency including the Attorney General's Office.
This is just going to put matters where they really belong. The Treasurer does a great job investing. We don't have any problems with her staff.
They're most cooperative. They make themselves available at any time that we really need to talk with them and want to talk with them, and we're always there for them as well.
We, many of you as elected officials use us for your constituents when they need help. You've called on us when you don't where to send them, and we've always been happy to assist, and we figure, we believe it's a duty.
It's a God given duty given to us, and we think we do it well. I believe that the agency operates with a high degree of transparency, and the American Legion has proudly administered this fund in partnership with the State of Connecticut since 1919, and I'm proud of that, and you, well, should be too.
The legislation was a significant piece of social legislation that established this relationship, and there isn't a piece like this, save maybe one other state, in the United States that does what we do here in the State of Connecticut, and you can be justifiably proud of that.
I have no other comments to make. If you have questions of me, I'm happy to take them.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you for your testimony, any questions? Yes, Representative Graziani.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you, Gerry, it's great to see you again, and you did a remarkable job of administering the Fund, and you turned it over to very capable hands, Jack Monahan.
You did allude to the fact that the AG's office had a study, but also Program Review last session did a study on the effectiveness, and as we all know that study came out to the Members very favorable on the administration of the Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines Fund, so it's been validated.
GERALD DIERMAN: Thank you.
REP. GRAZIANI: And so, keep up the great work just like the other State Agencies, and anything that deals with veterans, as you know, that's what we're here for, all of us.
GERALD DIERMAN: The Agency's in good hands with Administrator Monahan and his assistants. They do [inaudible] work.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you very much, Gerry. Nice seeing you again.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you. Thank you very much. Any other questions? If not, we'll move on to Paul Barry followed by Mike Livitello and Daniel McHale.
PAUL BARRY: Good afternoon, Representative Graziani, Senator Maynard, Members of the Committee. My name is Paul Barry.
I'm speaking to you on behalf of the State Council Board of Director's for the Vietnam Veterans of American and Chapter 120 here in greater Hartford.
We stand in support of Senate Bill 280. You have some information in front of you. Many veterans staying in emergency shelters remain anonymous.
They are identified as veterans, because they are not identified, they are not referred to services that could help them such as the VA in West Haven or Rocky Hill.
Neither VA nor State Department of Veterans' Affairs staff visit the shelters in the evenings when guests are present.
We recommend that the additional funding be provided that will allow the Department of Veterans' Affairs to start a shelter outreach program.
Item two, eligible homeless veterans who apply for admission to the domiciliary at Rocky Hill must wait a period of four to five weeks, or in that neighborhood, before they can get in.
Leadership in Rocky Hill, at Rocky Hill has stated that the reason for the delay has to do with staffing.
We recommend that the additional funding be provided that will empower the Department of Veterans' Affairs to hire enough staff so that eligible homeless veterans can access the facility immediately.
It's important to note that on extreme emergency cases, individuals are force fed into the system at Rocky Hill and are treated immediately.
Item three, individuals who struggle with problems of substance abuse and/or mental illness are more susceptible to becoming homeless. Homelessness, on the other hand, exacerbates these problems.
Research shows that when homelessness is taken out of the equation, when people are housed, individuals struggling with substance abuse and psychiatric illnesses have a better chance at recovery.
No longer forced to focus on issues of safety and survival while homeless, the majority will make great progress towards improved health.
It is clear that for many housing is health care. A chronically homeless person is one who has been homeless for at least two years or who has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the previous three years.
Studies show that individuals who are chronically homeless use 50% of all the resources spent on homeless services.
From a purely economic standpoint, providing housing to a chronically homeless person costs far less than its cost to provide mainstream services to persons who are chronically homeless.
Research has proven this point. It is cheaper to house a person that it is to maintain them while they are homeless.
In Connecticut and throughout the country, communities have understood these facts and have incorporated supportive, permanent housing as central pillars in their ten-year plus plans to end chronic homelessness.
Today, ten Connecticut cities have written their ten-year plans. Housing is truly health care.
We recommend that a special rental assistance program be created for veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
One of the ways to help pay for the program would be to modify the Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines Fund so that resources could be targeted to this purpose.
We recommend that ways to develop and fund permanent supportive housing programs for veterans who are homeless be designed and implemented.
At the very least, the housing needs of the veterans must be included in the planning and implementation of new, affordable housing initiatives.
Lastly, one of the most exciting and promising developments regarding homelessness in America is the ten-year planning process to end chronic homelessness.
In a movement that is sweeping the country, cities and states have developed their own 10-Year Plans to tackle the problem of homelessness in their communities.
Connecticut should have a plan for veterans. We recommend that the Connecticut General Assembly together with the Executive Branch and the Connecticut Department of Veterans' Affairs begin working on developing a ten-year plan to end chronic homelessness among veterans.
We feel that this last recommendation is the most important contribution we can make today on behalf of veterans who are homeless.
If we are truly serious about ending homelessness among veterans, then let's get organized.
Under the leadership of this Committee together with the State Department of Veterans' Affairs, we can put in place all the pieces that will be necessary to get the job done. That's what I have on that.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you very much, and I want to thank you particularly for your advocacy on behalf of homeless veterans.
As Co-Chair for the 10-Year Plan of southeastern Connecticut, we, I recognize the importance of that and the significant veteran population that we're serving, particularly in our part of the state.
We have four times the national average of homeless, chronically homeless people which comes as a surprise to many of us in local government, and a good many of them are veterans, so I appreciate your particular remarks there, and know that, you know, there'll be some sensitivity toward that.
Are there other comments or questions? Yes, Representative Graziani.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Paul, thank you very much for your testimony. You know, you hit on something that's of great magnitude.
Once again, this is not a State of Connecticut problem. It's a national problem for homelessness for our veterans, and something like this has to be elevated nationwide.
Just like we talked before about the Hispanic community, I mean, these are national issues. It's not a state issue. It's a national issue that has to be addressed in Congress, I mean, we'll certainly add to what we can do, but we can't stop here.
We have to advocate nationwide, so it's not our problem. It's a nationwide problem, and it doesn't say very much about how we handle our, treat our veterans.
We ask them to serve our country. They do it. They come back, and then they find themselves, in some cases due to substance abuse, medical problems, and we have to do, treat, just to give somebody shelter, in my opinion, is not good enough.
We have to go ahead and actually treat them so they can feel like they are a part of society, and thank you for listening to my commentary, but thank you for speaking on behalf of this subject.
SEN. MAYNARD: Representative Nicastro.
REP. NICASTRO: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for testifying today.
I believe that I truly understand where you're coming from. I can think back to the end of the Second World War when my dad came home from fighting in the Pacific, and he was riddled with malaria.
And I can remember my father going into shock, and all of us kids jumping on top of him trying to cover him up with blankets, because he was freezing, freezing, freezing, and then he'd go, and he'd be screaming because he'd see things that he saw, you know, during the War.
And I can remember that going on for years and years, and every time he tried to seek help, it wasn't there for him.
That's going back to 1945, '46. I remember it so clearly. Now I know we've improved at this drastically since then, but we still have a long way to go.
When the men and women can put their lives on the line, but they're [inaudible] for years and years and years, then we have an obligation to see to it, that when they come home, they're treated with that respect and honor that they're earned.
They shouldn't be treated as second-class citizens, that it shouldn't be any, it should know no color, white, Black, Hispanic. It doesn't matter.
You're a veteran, you're a veteran. You served your country. You served it with dignity and honor. Then you're entitled to certain things.
If you can put your life on the line, then the state and your country like our Chairmen both said, you know, we owe something there too, and I want to thank you for testifying. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you, Representative. Anything further?
PAUL BARRY: One last point is in terms of the organizations that I mentioned, Vietnam Veterans of America, stand in opposition of House Bill 6383.
We feel that the unique configuration of the administration of the Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines Fund requires more oversight by elected officials not less. Thank you for your time.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you. Next, Mike Livitello.
MIKE CIVITELLO: Good afternoon, Chairmen.
SEN. MAYNARD: Welcome.
MIKE CIVITELLO: Simply what I want to say is, you got my testimony, and I'm not going to repeat that again or read it over, but I think that Senate Bill 280 and Senate Bill 945 are so important, and I've heard some discussion about it, and I understand the treatment aspects of things, but I believe that you have to remedy the hopelessness of the situation.
When a person is on the street, they might have been through programs, might have done a lot of things with their life. They might have been in prison. They might have paid their amends, but without a chance, and I could go to myself with this.
What I'm getting on Social Security, I can't afford to live in Hartford, so I would have to look outside myself for help, and to date the best I could do is be in a shelter, you know, I have a family so Rocky Hill is not an option for me, because I can't bring my wife there.
So I'm looking at it as a little percent of a percentage, and I just think it's important for someone to bring this to you, and I would hope that this would move along, and with that I, I'll close.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you very much. I think you're exactly right. I want to just say in the absence of my Co-Chair, Phillip Mangano, the head of the Interagency Council on Homelessness has put a federal spotlight on this.
I think there is an effort to bring it to the local level, and I would just add my voice to those who are calling for support of housing for our homeless, and particularly folks in your situation.
I think, you know, we all recognize that it isn't, that shelters are not the goal. Something beyond that is what we're looking for and to restore dignity and a place for people to find themselves unable to get on their feet again.
So I thank you for your testimony and for being with us today.
MIKE CIVITELLO: Okay. Thank you, Sir.
SEN. MAYNARD: Next, we'll hear from Daniel McHale.
DANIEL MCHALE: Good afternoon.
SEN. MAYNARD: Good afternoon, Sir, pardon me.
DANIEL MCHALE: And the Committee, Senator Maynard, and Representative Graziani. I'd like to start off by saying that I, too, am a Vietnam Veteran.
I'm retired after 37 years from the National Guard, and I'm currently employed as the Transitional Assistance Advisor that's a liaison between the National Guard Bureau and State and Federal VAs.
Basically, I'm the conduit or the directory assistance and outreach advocate for the, not only the Guard, but the veterans in the state.
My last military assignment was July 7, 2001, to August 1, 2005, where I commanded the 85th Troop Command of the Connecticut National Guard.
The 85th consisted of eight battalions with an authorized strength of approximately 3,200 soldiers of which the majority have either deployed or are currently deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
It was a dual mission also there where they had a quick reaction force, and it deployed numerous times in the past five years to critical infrastructure sites in Connecticut by the direction of the Governor and the TAG.
So I feel that I'm uniquely qualified to talk on two of the bills that I'd like to speak about today, House Bill 6952 and House Bill 6714.
Along with General Scorzato, I was also a Battalion Commander of the 102nd Infantry in New Haven, and I was the past commander of the Middletown Infantry Unit there before they turned it over to the town, so I'm really familiar with both the areas, and the situation of the two bills.
As you know, the Guard has a dual mission. It's prepared to defend and support the country and be available to support out Governor and our state in time of need.
We actually are a Reserve of the Army, even though it's National Guard. We're a force multiplier for the regular Army. We're paid, outfitted, and uniformed, and wore the uniform of the U.S. Army.
To that point, even though the National Guard had not been mobilized for many years, it was always a possibility, and there were primary reasons we were being paid by the federal government, and that was to be trained and ready in case of need.
The problem that we face today, especially with House Bill 6952, is that fact that many of the Connecticut National Guard soldiers, Army and Air, aren't permitted to be buried in the State Cemetery, and it's a catch-22, mainly because they're not issued a 214.
Many of the soldiers were not given the opportunity to serve in active duty because the Guard wasn't called up, or when the Guard is called up, it's called up as Units and individual augmenters as the Reserves.
The Army Reserve soldiers are allowed to be buried in the State Cemetery, because they were issued a DD-214, and as you'll see in my prepared speech, I have a copy of the state's pamphlet on the burial, and it's not what it says.
It's what it doesn't say. It doesn't give the qualifications for what you have to do to qualify to be buried in the State Cemetery.
Reserve soldiers, they're issued a 214, they have access. National Soldiers, Air, and Army are issued a Form 22 which is from the National Guard Bureau and are not entitled to the same benefits.
The Guardsman have answered the calls. Some have served over 40 years. They've been to storms, to natural disasters, to riots, critical infrastructure security missions. They rode the rails.
They're trained to Army standards and expected to keep up and maintain their skills and their education, but they're not given the right to be buried in the State Veterans' Cemetery.
They can be buried in a federal cemetery, but the state doesn't have any. They can apply for burial or survivor benefits once they pass 60 and draw their first pension check from the military as a guardsman.
In, there's one of me in each state, a Transitional Assistance Advisor. I went to the other states and asked them for their information on their state veterans' cemeteries.
Rhode Island, the eligibility requirements for the veterans' cemetery is a discharge from the military with honorable service, entry into the service from the State of Rhode Island or lived in Rhode Island two consecutive years prior to their death for survivor benefits, active duty during a wartime period, two or more consecutive years of active duty during peacetime, or 20 years as a National Guard or Reserve time.
In New York, the retired Guardsman can be buried in the state cemetery and federal cemeteries after 20 years of service.
Massachusetts allows its National Guard veterans burial in their state cemeteries after serving their initial obligation, and that was a six-year obligation.
I strongly support, and on behalf of being a veterans' advocate in the state, we strongly support House Bill 6952 to allow Connecticut National Guardsmen with DD Form 22 to be allowed to be buried in the state cemeteries.
The second issue is Proposed House Bill 6714. As I said, I was the Commander in Middletown prior to them closing the armory and giving it to the town, and I was also, commanded the 102nd.
The 102nd is a famed battalion. The museum down there was second to none. They had memorabilia and everything from every conflict either in peacetime back predating the Revolution.
Its first commander was Benedict Arnold, and we all know that he was a good commander until he tried to sell West Point.
That's how big the heritage is in that museum, and there have been a number of donations that I know of in my years in the Guard that have given to that museum, and it went to a warehouse in '99, and what happens with that, it's not where the museum should be.
There is a need for a museum. The items, like I said, were from all conflict and eras, some that predate the Revolutionary War, and we need to identify, collect, and house all of these items for safekeeping and public viewing.
I'm sure the state's not aware of what is out there. Especially with the future closings of the armories, the Bristol Armory, Manchester, Rockville, the New Haven Armory, and the relocation of the 102nd's museum.
It is very imperative that the work be done on a museum as soon as possible, or designate a site and collect all of this memorabilia. It doesn't matter, like I said, where the museum is located only that we have one.
Please save our military heritage from getting lost, stolen, misplaced, or ending up on E-Bay, because a lot of the articles I already know are some, we have battle flags that sitting in civilian lawyers offices, memorabilia, muskets that were up in attics that were sold to antique auctions, and it should be a priority for the state to address this issue as soon as possible, not where, but as soon as possible.
That's my testimony. Are there any questions?
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you very for your service to our country, number one, first and foremost.
You did your homework, which is remarkable, because it's always a great benefit for us as a Committee to find out what surrounding states or any state for that matter are handling certain type of situations, and I don't have any questions, Representative Alberts.
REP. ALBERTS: I'm all set.
REP. GRAZIANI: All right. Thank you very much.
DANIEL MCHALE: Thank you very much.
REP. GRAZIANI: Let me, before I lose him, let me turn it over to my ranking member to do some calling some people up here, if you don't mind.
REP. ALBERTS: Of course, the Chairman has to give me the hard names to pronounce, Dennis Oparowski. Did I get that right?
DENNIS OPAROWSKI: That was perfect.
REP. ALBERTS: Okay. Thank you.
REP. GRAZIANI: That's why I gave it to him.
DENNIS OPAROWSKI: Even if it wasn't, I would have told you it was perfect. Good afternoon.
My name is Dennis Oparowski, and I'm the Legislative Co-Chair and Executive Board Member of NGACT, the National Guard Association of Connecticut.
I am a 20-year veteran of the Guard and active Army and that also includes a one-year desert tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
NGACT represents Connecticut National Guardsmen, the retirees, veterans, and family members.
I'm here today in favor of Proposed House Bill 6948, a bill concerning stolen military valor and discrimination against members of the armed forces.
When an individual decides to impersonate a member of the military by donning the uniform they do not deserve, I believe they should be punished with the same harshness of impersonating a policeman, a doctor, or any other public servant.
They dishonor the memories of those who came before them, and they dishonor those currently serving.
When these individuals also wear medals not obviously earned, they cheapen the lives of the veterans who gave, in some cases, the ultimate sacrifice.
This bill is also asking for certain penalties for discrimination against a person on account of membership in the armed forces.
I think recently we've heard of stories on the news and in the news, of businesses wanting to hire a Guardsman but know that with the current situation that they're going to lose them, in some cases, down the road, and temporarily that is, but, and I can truly feel for those employees who would like to hire a Guardsman, but like anyone else they're put in that tough position.
They can either hire them and possible lose them to the deployment, or not hire them and possibly face some sort of discrimination case for not hiring them, because they're just a member of the military.
I do, however, believe that if this bill is enacted, employers must also be offered some protection, and in that case, they will have an incentive again to hire a Guardsman.
Without it, like I said, they'll continue to take the chance when hiring a Guard member or in some cases decide to not take that chance, and again, and face that type of a lawsuit.
House Bill 6100 AN ACT CONCERNING THE MILITARY FAMILY RELIEF FUND, this is a no cost bill to the state or its residents.
It is an amendment that would empower those who facilitate the fund, and it would broaden it and give relief to those in need.
It would include all members of the armed service, and it would allow the military department to issue approved grants directly to the creditor or the vendor identified in the grant application rather than to the individual.
And House Bill 6384, a bill that would require health care providers and state licensed facilities to accept the federal Tri-Care military health plan covering military personnel and their dependents, I would hope that we could promote this as one of the most patriotic programs a civilian provider can participate in.
I would call it their civic duty and their way of making a difference.
If you are a member of the Guard, and you or your family member get sick, there really isn't a central health care facility to go to like if you were serving on a military post.
In some cases, you have to drive a great distance just to find a doctor who will accept this health plan, and if you are retired from the armed forces, it can be even more difficult obviously because of the distance between your home and a doctor who participates in Tri-Care.
In the past, Tri-Care was a second-rate, low-paying, jump through your hoop kind of a plan. It was a plan that would not accept a secondary insurance, and it forced doctors to accept below standard reimbursement.
That has changed, and Tri-Care is now considered on par with most other insurance plans available to the public being one of the reasons why, still, providers think of it in the old plan, is that, as it had been and don't realize the changes that are out there.
I hope we can have the opportunity to educate these providers on these changes, and once this happens I do believe they will make it their civic and patriotic duty to serve those who have served and protected them. Thank you.
REP. ALBERTS: Dennis, thank you very much for your testimony. You mentioned the Tri-Care program and the effort that's needed to perhaps make providers more aware of the bells and whistles.
Is that something that the National Guard Association has endeavored to do on its own?
DENNIS OPAROWSKI: As a whole, I will admit freely to that I am the rookie of this crew, and this is my first year. I cannot speak for them.
I know personally throughout members that are Association members or just members of the National Guard it's, you know, to whoever, whichever doctor you go to are asking will you become a Tri-Care member, and that's more on a one-to-one basis as far as I know.
REP. ALBERTS: It's, one of my concerns is that as the number of bases obviously has shrunk over the years, there's really nothing left for active duty bases.
You have the submarine base. You've got the Coast Guard Academy, Westover, but really, it's very limited the way of facilities.
DENNIS OPAROWSKI: Correct, and now the way Tri-Care is out there is that when you do retire, they do not want you to go to the military base because of everything being shrunk, so they do make that provision available to go out to the outside and seek a provider.
It's just the possibility of having to drive X amount of miles to find somebody that knows who you are and how to take care of you.
REP. ALBERTS: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, any comments?
REP. GRAZIANI: Yes, thank you. First of all, thank you for your testimony. You hit on something very important.
Obviously, one of the key things about employees, I know we do have the employee support, you know, Guard and Reserve, I should say, for the employees, but we need to do a better job in convincing our employers that, yes, they might lose an individual, but the experience that they gather when they come back could be utilized.
I mean, because obviously, they're making decisions spontaneously all the time, and it also bodes well because it's helping not only the employer by giving his support, I mean, it's such a vital thing.
It shouldn't have to be, once again, an option whether or not I'm going to hire somebody.
You should actively go ahead. Hire that individual knowing that individual may also have a family that could be affected.
DENNIS OPAROWSKI: Most definitely.
REP. GRAZIANI: All too often, we don't hear about the spouses or the children that are left behind.
They share their hardship right along, so it's not only affecting that veteran. It's also affecting their family members as well, so we need to somehow, and I don't know what the answer is, to promote this.
Reward those employers by some sort of publicity, awards, some sort of recognition to say thank you very much for taking a chance and giving our men and women the opportunity.
DENNIS OPAROWSKI: Again, Sir, and that being, that's great with a large corporation that can possible absorb somebody like that, but like I have said, with some type of a reward back to the employer whether it be retraining funds for that person coming in or however it needs to be decided.
But again, if you're a small business with five or six employees and you lose two or three of them, your business is pretty much devastated also, so it is a catch-22 for them.
REP. GRAZIANI: Right, but I look at those as challenges not obstacles.
DENNIS OPAROWSKI: Most definitely.
REP. GRAZIANI: All right, thank you very much.
REP. ALBERTS: Mr. Robert Pellegatto.
ROBERT PELLEGATTO: [inaudible - microphone not on] in a veteran's cemetery, Proposed House Bill 6952. Retired National Guard personnel have a problem. I being one of them.
Some do not have available a DD-214 form upon retirement from the National Guard, received NGB Form 22 Record of Separation, Record of Service.
They also received an NGB 55A Honorable Discharge, and an NGB Form 23 Retirement Credits Record.
Over the years, I have found that inquiries addressed to the VA or federal agencies are usually required followed by a request for a DD-214 Form.
This creates a problem at times when only a DD-214 will satisfy the VA. As a lifetime long resident and taxpayer in the State of Connecticut and having served and earned my retirement in the Connecticut National Guard, I and my peers feel, we have earned the right to be eligible for burial in Connecticut State veterans' cemeteries.
I also enjoying federal monies for retirement, but I can't get a DD-214 for burial eligibility.
Connecticut is a leader for programs that benefit individuals, communities, national security, and the state.
Veterans and retired personnel are only looking to maintain, not lost, benefits they anticipated would be available after years of service to the state.
Connecticut supports everything from commercial, residential venues, education, advertising, industry, business, economics, etc.
Now is the time to support the military personnel past and present who served and are serving with pride and dignity to support and safeguard the great State of Connecticut.
I urge your support of House Bill 6952 to extend eligibility for burial in Connecticut veterans' cemeteries to Connecticut National Guardsmen. Thank you.
REP. ALBERTS: Thank you, Sir, for your testimony, and thank you for your service on behalf of the State of Connecticut and the country.
This is a bill that I think has very wide support among the Committee Members. In some fashion, I think we're going to vote this out of Committee to make you aware of that, Mr. Chairman.
ROBERT PELLEGATTO: I'll make a copy available to you.
REP. ALBERTS: That would be great. Our clerk will take a copy from you.
REP. GRAZIANI: Yes, thank you very much for taking the time to be here before us.
REP. ALBERTS: Bill Pomfret, please. Mr. Pomfret? No, then we'll go down to the next in line. I believe it's Robert Wamester.
Are there any folks in the public that want to testify but have not testified. Yes, Sir, please come on up.
We'll take you out of order, Sir, but we have an extra sheet here. Could you please state your name for the record?
BRIAN BAKER: Yes, my name is Brian Baker.
REP. ALBERTS: Okay, Mr. Baker, thank you.
BRIAN BAKER: Thank you for having me. Thank you, Select Committee on Veterans' Affairs. I'm here joined by a bunch of my friends, some gentleman who, unfortunately now, are occupying our local homeless shelters, are here with me.
They're proud to be veterans. They're not proud to be homeless. Most of these guys are going to be temporarily homeless. They're not going to be homeless forever.
A certain percentage of the homeless are chronically homeless. The majority of them, unfortunately, have to suffer through overburdened, overstressed, and under funded homeless shelters right here around this very Capitol.
We have an overflow shelter just down the block on Washington Street. It's housed in the basement of the Salvation Army. It's the Citadel Building which is on the corner of Washington and Jefferson.
We can walk there in five minutes. At night it opens up, and it's got mattresses on the floor for 50 or 60 guys, and a good percentage of those guys are veterans, and that's our overflow shelter.
It opens up only in the winter, and it's only opened up in the last couple years. I've been doing this for 23 years. We've had 36,000 people through my homeless shelter which is the South Park Inn.
We're located on the corner of Park and Main, and our facilities are a little bit better than the facilities at Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army, thank God for them, because those 50 or 60 people would be on the streets.
I was here last night rallying the veterans, and I told the veterans if they'd come today, just pop in, spend a couple minutes, and I'm going to give you a gift card out of my own pocket to go to McDonald's and have lunch.
The fellows have been here for three and a half hours. I've got to get them more than one gift card, but I appreciate them coming.
It takes a lot, and it took a lot for Mike to come up here and testify to you as a homeless veteran, you know, somebody that was a wartime Vietnam vet, and he's got to live in our homeless shelter, and there's 45 guys in a dorm.
And it's just a real shame that we have 100-plus veterans in this area right around the Capitol, and they're stuck in homeless shelters.
And try to get somebody into Rocky Hill, and it takes four to eight weeks to do that. A veteran advocate that works with us on his own time because he's a VA employee, and as a VA employee he cannot advocate for homeless people on his own.
I don't know why that is, but I'm a civilian. I don't know all this stuff. He comes out on his own time on Thursday mornings.
I do homeless outreach along with a colleague of mine sitting over there, David, and we go under the bridges, and we go, we ride through Bushnell Park.
In the shadow of the Capitol, we find people sleeping in the porta-potties and [inaudible] and really have no place to go, and we outreach to them.
We get stuff given to us, sleeping bags, sandwiches, that sort of thing.
We don't have funding for even our outreach program, nor do we have any kind of veteran money in the shelters to help out the veterans, but we find vets.
We find vets sleeping right here, you know, we're in a big dilemma. Our homeless population is growing and growing and growing.
I was the last guy in the Y, because the Y was giving us free cabinets, and you know, as an under-funded shelter that had less money last year from the state than we did the year before, you know, we'll take anything from anybody.
We're just, we just will. If we can use it, we're taking it, but I was the last guy in there, and what I mean by that is the Y closed.
The Y is no longer. That was 150 rooms. That was a step up. The common ground project on Bushnell Park isn't going through.
We've lost all our public housing. We lost the public welfare, you know, our benefits aren't there for the general homeless population, but to me, and what I've been doing for the last 23 years.
The group of people that, to me, has affected me most is our homeless vets. These are people that are out there and really, really, you know, have given their lives, put their lives on the line, and they're coming back here.
And what's going to happen five years from now when I'm still doing what I'm doing, unfortunately, and we have Iraqi vets that need to come into the shelter.
What are we going to do? We've got to do something now. The way I got started in this 18 years ago. I was down at the shelters. I was a much younger social worker, and I had a vet that wanted to get into the Rocky Hill. I said fine.
The first time I ever did an application, did the application and got him down there, gave his bed away in the shelter. We were full then too, and as I'm leaving he goes through, and as I'm leaving, he said he can't stay here, and I said why not.
Well, he's morbidly obese. I said he's too fat. He can't stay here because he's too fat, and he's got to go back on the streets, and I gave his bed away.
So I, needless to say, I got a bit upset, so I went to the DVA veterans' group, and they rallied myself and Brad David and Tom Condon, because at the time [Gap in testimony. Changing from Tape 2A to 2B.]
--and hundreds of vets have been through there, especially hundreds of Vietnam vets have been through there.
A lot of them have come in and out there, and are rehabbed. We need Rocky Hill to, in my opinion, to open up now, and to really get these veterans out of these shelters.
That would reduce our shelter population by 10%. Most of the young social workers now don't even know Rocky Hill exists.
There is no advertisements in the shelters. There is no advocacy in the shelters for the homeless vets.
We have two homeless vet advocates in the state that work for the VA, of course, they can't talk to you guys, but one of them is Jim Tackett and the other one is Peter McMullen, and they're two great guys.
And Jim at the time was the one who helped me get this rally going. He worked for the DVA at the time. I can go on forever, but I just want to tell you this, that our, again that our veterans are very proud.
We raise our veterans, our veterans raise and lower the flag in the south green [inaudible] every single day. They do it religiously. I've got to check the CGA.CT website for them to make sure what the flag policy is.
I'm telling, we're beating the state out pretty good, because half the time the state's got the flag in the wrong position, but our homeless vets have got it in the right position.
Now and I want to thank the guys from the shelters that come out and are here to represent, you know, what usually is the faceless homeless vets.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you very much for your testimony, but we are all approachable, so everyone can talk to us. I want to dispel that myth that someone cannot talk to us. Thank you very much, any questions? Seeing none. Thank you very much for your time.
BRIAN BAKER: Thanks a lot.
REP. GRAZIANI: Next one would be Carmelo Figueroa.
CARMELO FIGUEROA: May I let Mr. Caban speak first?
REP. GRAZIANI: You can put up as many people as you so desire up there as long as it's on the same topic.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: [inaudible - microphone not on]
REP. GRAZIANI: Terrific. Consolidation is always good.
LUIS CABAN: Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and distinguished Members. My name is Luis Caban.
I am Executive Director of Southside Institution's Neighborhood Alliance, SINA here in Hartford.
I'm also both the son of a World War II veteran, buried here in Connecticut, and a Vietnam veteran having served America for a total of ten years in both active and active reserve status with the U.S. Navy and earned two honorable discharges.
I am here to support the passage of House Bill 5799, AN ACT CONCERNING A HISPANIC AFFAIRS ADVOCATE WITHIN THE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS' AFFAIRS.
Several of my fellow veterans will address the plight of the Hispanic-American veteran and why the Hispanic-American veteran requires focused consideration.
I wish to provide a historical perspective of how Hispanics, and specifically Puerto Ricans, have protected our freedom and our democracy in theaters of war spanning the globe and going back to participation in the Revolutionary War.
Why a historical perspective, why not just a case for need? Simply stated, Hispanics in America today, regardless of citizenship status, regardless of how much we have given in labor and in blood, are facing an anti-immigrant sentiment comparable to that faced by the Irish and the Italians earlier in our history.
With today's national security in high alert and an economy that is eliminating our middle class, Hispanics have become the scapegoat for the ills of our society.
Yet, our contributions, especially in military service, have gone largely unnoticed. It is important that our story be told.
Here with some little known history, in 1765, the Spanish crown sent Field Marshall Alejandro O'Reilly to Puerto Rico to form an organized militia.
O'Reilly, known as the Father of the Puerto Rican Militia, oversaw training to bring fame and glory to the militia in future military engagements, nicknaming the civilian militia the disciplined militia.
O'Reilly was later appointed Governor of colonial Louisiana in 1769 and became known as Bloody O'Reilly.
During the American Revolutionary War, Spain lent the rebelling colonists the use of the ports in Puerto Rico through which flowed financial aid and arms for their cause.
Puerto Rican volunteers fought the British alongside the Continental Army in the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775 under the command of Captain General Torre.
The Governor of Louisiana, Bernardo do Galvez, was named general of the Spanish colonial army in North America.
In 1779, Galvez and his troops composed of Puerto Ricans and other Hispanic groups distracted the British from the Revolution by capturing the cities of Baton Rouge, Mobile, Pensacola, and St. Louis.
Galvez and his troops also provided the Continental Army with guns, clothing, gunpowder, and medicine shipped from Cuba up through the Mississippi River.
On August 8, 1898, the Spanish-American War ended and upon the signing of the treaty of Paris on December 10, Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States.
The Spanish troops had already left in October, and the United States named General John Brooke as military Governor of the island.
On July 1, 1899, the Puerto Rico Regimen of Infantry, United States Army was created and approved by the United States Congress on May 27, 1908. The regiment was a segregated, all volunteer unit made up of 1,969 Puerto Ricans.
On June 19, 1915, Major General Luis Esteves of the U.S. Army became the first Puerto Rican to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point.
While he attended West Point, he tutored fellow classmate Dwight D. Eisenhower in Spanish. A second language was required in order to graduate from West Point at that time.
Lieutenant Maria Rodriguez Denton, United States Army, born in Guanica, Puerto Rico, was the first known woman of Puerto Rican descent to become an officer in the United States Navy as member of the WAVES.
It was Lieutenant Denton who forwarded the news through channels to President Harry S. Truman that World War II had ended.
Sixty-one thousand Puerto Ricans served in the Korean War including 18,000 Puerto Ricans who enlisted in the continental United States.
Puerto Ricans distinguished themselves as part of the 65th Infantry Division, and you'll hear more about them, receiving many awards and recognitions.
Among the distinctions awarded to the members of the 65th were 10 Distinguished Service Crosses, 256 Silver Medals, 595 Bronze Stars, and according to El Nuevo Dia in 2004, a Puerto Rican newspaper, a total of 756 Puerto Ricans lost their lives in Korea from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
During the Vietnam War, an estimated 48,000 Puerto Ricans served in the four branches of the armed forces.
Of the 345 who died in combat, 17 were missing in action, and today Humberto Acosta-Rosario remains MIA. Four Puerto Ricans were awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest U.S. military decoration.
Others served in Vietnam and had distinguished military careers among one, amongst these Brigadier General Ruben Cubero, who in 1991, became the first person of Hispanic heritage to be named Dean of the Faculty of the United States Air Force Academy.
In 1990, 1,700 Puerto Rican National Guardsmen were among the 2,000 Hispanic deployed to the Persian Gulf in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm as part of the Gulf War.
Four of them lost their lives including Captain Manual Rivera of the Marine Corps, a Puerto Rican from the South Bronx, who on January 22, 1991, became the first soldier, the first soldier to be killed in Operation Desert Shield.
Rivera was killed during a support mission over the Persian Gulf. On January 30, 1991, the U.S. House of Representatives paid tribute to Mr. Rivera.
In the military campaigns of Afghanistan and Iraq, in what the United States and its Allies refer to as the War on Terrorism, among those that have perished are the first Puerto Rican women to die in a foreign combat zone, Specialist Frances Vega, Lizbeth Robles, and Aleina Ramirez Gonzalez.
On November 2, 2003, Specialist Vega became the first female Puerto Rican soldier born in the United States to also die in a war zone.
One of the first U.S. soldiers to die in Iraq, Jose Gutierrez, was an orphaned Guatemalan, who at the time of his death, was not even an American citizen.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, while Latinos make up 9.5% of the actively enlisted forces, they are over represented in the categories that get the most dangerous assignments, infantry, gun crews, and seamanship, and make up over 17.5% of the front lines.
Over 1,225 Puerto Ricans have died while serving in the United States military.
General William Harris was quoted in the Puerto Rico Herald as saying quote, no ethnic group has greater pride in itself and its heritage than the Puerto Rican people.
Nor have I encountered any that can be more dedicated and zealous in support of the democratic principles for which the United States stands.
All told, we have over three-dozen Hispanic recipients of the Medal of Honor, and a list of these is accompanied with my statement.
For these and many other reasons, gentlemen, I ask you to please support passage of House Bill 5799. I thank you.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you again for your testimony. Any questions from the Members of the Committee for Luis?
CARMELO FIGUEROA: Thank you, Luis. My name is Carmelo Figueroa. I want to thank the Senator and State Rep for your time as well as the Members of the Committee.
I'll try to make this as brief as possible. I'm here in support of this bill, House Bill 5799, and I'm just going to talk about a couple of things.
I'm going to share a personal, or a couple of personal stories as brief as possible. As a veteran, I have been serving, and I continue to serve.
I've served both in the active component as well as the Connecticut National Guard and the Vermont Army National Guard, and I just recently transferred to the Army Reserves here in West Hartford.
I'm coming up on 25 years of servitude. I'm a Sergeant First class, so I can certainly understand the needs of veterans that we are charged with.
When I first, I like to consider myself an expert in the transitional needs of veterans, especially Hispanic veterans.
When I first got home in 1994 from active duty, I remember entering the Vet Center here in Hartford on Market Street which is now on Jordan Lane.
I can clearly remember not really seeing any Hispanic veterans there to give me any support, and to this present day I don't know whether there are any there or not.
What I do know is that we still continue to find the most, or rather, to struggle to find the most minimal of guidance and resources that are supposed to be available to us as veterans.
If we have a specific advocate, I'm certain that this would allow for our needs to be addressed much quicker, and it will also help the VA focus on other areas to improve the quality of life for not only Hispanic veterans but for all veterans.
Just over a year ago, I encountered, or rather I was returning back from Operation Iraqi Freedom. I submitted some claims from my Operation Iraqi Freedom, and one of the first things I got from the VA was that they're looking into my case, and they were going to be scheduling me for some medical screening.
The next thing you know, I'm getting a letter a couple of months later, a rejection letter denying my claims, and it just, you know, it was beyond me why that happened.
Back in 1994 when I first came back home, I put in some claims for the Gulf War Syndrome, and in my naiveness I really had, you know, I really didn't have the support, or I didn't even know who to go to in all honesty, because my life is the military.
My life has been the military, a big part of it. So I didn't have that guidance, and I know that having an advocate at this level can help not only the veterans here in this state, but perhaps collaborate and coordinate with the active components to help these veterans in their transition when they're coming home.
I think it'll make a big difference. Also, one of the other things is, these, this advocate can have significant knowledge of the service providers, the Latino service providers here in the City of Hartford or in the State of Connecticut.
That can be of significant help to all of our veterans, especially the Latino community. I've been sitting here all morning listening to some of the testimonies of some of the House Bills and the Senate Bills and, you know, there's a lot of issues.
We have collaborative issues here, and I'd just like to mention, even though I didn't write about it, these other issues.
I am in support of any issues regarding veterans, especially things like homelessness or joblessness. These are things that, it's a win-win situation when we have advocates on our behalf.
You can't lose. I want to take a moment to thank here, State Rep here, Kelvin Roldan, who presented this bill.
I want to thank the mayor who was here earlier as well as Attorney General Blumenthal that are supporting this bill, and I salute all of our veterans, not just the Hispanics but all of our veterans for their servitude.
I can only say that, adopt this bill, and thank you. Thank you for your time and consideration.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you very much for your testimony. Any questions from Members of the Committee? If not, thank you very much, Sir. Turn it over to my Vice-Chair.
REP. KALINOWSKI: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The next speaker will be Juan Cruz, followed by Debbi Newton. Good morning, Sir, and just state your name for the record.
JUAN CRUZ: Yes, good afternoon. My name is Juan L. Cruz. I am actually the President of the Hispanic-American Veterans of Connecticut, Inc.
With me, also I to make it clear that I have company of some of the members of the organization that I'd like to mention their names, Mr. Julio Diaz, Mr. Pedro Ramos, and on my right side, Mr. Hector Rivera, that they will not be speaking on behalf of this organization at this point.
However, they are fully supporting House Bill 5799. Again, my name is Juan Cruz. I want to thank the Senator Maynard, State Representative Graziani, and Honorable Members of the Select Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
I am a service connected disabled veteran, a 14 year honorably discharged U.S. Army Reserve veteran, President of the Town of West Hartford, Connecticut.
Previously I served 14 years again, 6 years as an MP, 8 years as a Drill Sergeant serving this country training troops in Fort Drum, Fort Leonard Wood Missouri, and I then visited West Point where I trained our cadets, our great officers.
As President of the Hispanic-American Veterans of Connecticut, I come before you in support of Proposed House Bill 5799 AN ACT CONCERNING A HISPANIC AFFAIRS ADVOCATE WITHIN THE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS' AFFAIRS.
We are an organization newly formed to ensure that Hispanic-American veterans and their families receive their services they may most require at any given time.
At this point in time, our organization actually has been already incorporated in the State of Connecticut, and as Representative Graziani asked before, we did visit Dr. Linda Schwartz, and kindly enough I am happy to say that I have here the golden key.
This key represent, and make it clear to members here present, this is a key actually that given thanks to the courtesy of Commissioner Linda Schwartz as part of her full support to this organization.
All we did is, we visit her in January 12, 2007, and let it be clear that we started on November 5 this past year, 2006, during the greater Hartford Veterans' Parade, and as we were talking to her, she was just completely embracing our needs and offered office space.
So currently, we have a location over there. There is a placard stating who we are and what we're here for.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau 2005, American Community Survey, Connecticut has about 261,294 veterans, and of that number a total of approximately 8,100 are of Hispanic or Latino origin.
Also as an organization hoping that this bill, House Bill 5799 is not only to then started to provide support and services and in this case it will be bilingual services recognizing the need of, not necessarily again those 8,100 Hispanic veterans but their families.
We made it clear in this case that us as veterans had the opportunity to join the service and being able to, thank God being kind of fluent in the language.
In my case, I started in 1992, coming in '89 from Puerto Rico, so English was, and it still is a second language for me.
However, this is the way that I decided to put my life together was joining the service, providing support to this country, and learning English, because I realized that it was so important.
We approached, in this instance, Representative Kelvin Roldan, to seek his support of our efforts to provide services to veterans and their families.
Representative Roldan, who we also thank, responded to our outreach by proposing House Bill 5799, which called for the creation of a position within the Department of Veterans' Affairs in Connecticut for a Hispanic affairs advocate.
We are here in great numbers today wholeheartedly supporting Representative Roldan and you as selected Members of the Committee to impose or to make sure that House Bill 5799 take place.
In the short amount of time that we have been in existence, we have been extremely successful in every area that we have pursued.
For example, we wanted to obtain some seed funding to go about providing limited services considering out limited resources.
In our case, we visited the Aetna Foundation, and they kindly stepped forward and provided us a $5,000 grant which will allow us to pay for the maintenance of our website.
Just to make it clear also, we do have a website up and running, and pay for the acquisition of federal recognition.
In addition, we wanted to meet with the representatives of Massachusetts Puerto Rican Veterans Organization, and we were successful in doing that.
I was actually with their Executive Director, thanks to him, Sergeant Gumersindo Gomez, who happens to be a Vietnam veteran who also retired from the service as a First Sergeant who helped us to achieve yet another goal, and that was, as I mentioned earlier, meeting with Dr. Linda Schwartz of our Connecticut, our Commissioner from the Connecticut Veterans' Affairs.
She has offered, as I mentioned, to collaborate with us in our efforts to better inform the Hispanic community throughout Connecticut about the services available to Hispanic veterans and their families.
A dedicated position or unit for the dissemination of such vital information to a veteran or their family, as where to seek health care, that it is our intent.
Our objective to provide assistance with health care matter, referral for employment, or acquisition of housing services, would give them access to those services.
This position or unit can assist with the preparation of paperwork which is one of our major complaints as we establish our organization, we have currently over 50 veterans right now, who are asking us questions already about submitting claims.
This is the critical information that while a veteran may be fluent in English and be aware of it, the family may not necessarily speak or read English and not even be aware that the department provides those services and that they are even available for them.
At our meetings, I have heard inspiring and yet troubling stories of those veterans who have taken upon themselves to lend a helping hand to another veteran who can not help himself due to his mental state.
They have walked that veteran step by step through the red tape to achieve wholeness once again. It is gut wrenching to witness, and you can hear a pin drop in the room as they relate their experiences.
These men and women, ladies and gentlemen, need a strong and supportive mechanism in place where they feel safe, respected, and most of all successful at getting back on their feet again.
They gave their all on our behalf while in the service, and their families lived through so many sacrifices while their loved was away from them.
Many times when they return, it takes them a long time to be whole, but they are never the same person who left.
I cite this story recently run in the Hartford Courant about a Hispanic veteran from Waterbury suffering from PTSD.
His mother said he was a normal and happy young man prior to serving in Iraq, but 18 months after having returned home, he does not want to leave the house.
These are some of the cases, ladies and gentlemen, for which the Hispanic-American Veterans of Connecticut, Inc. exists and for which we hope to provide extensive outreach and support.
With your help and support of this bill, we should be able to achieve this goal.
I respectfully urge all the Members of the Committee to vote in favor of this measure which will enhance the services that the Department of Veterans' Affairs is already offering to the veterans of the state.
I and the members of this organization feel that the position or unit that Representative Roldan seeks is reasonably and will provide access to this often-isolated community in the state.
I want to thank each one of you for being here and for listening to our testimony, and I would hope that you are in favor of House Bill 5799.
I also want to support also my brothers and sisters, especially for those proposed bills also that have to do with bearing our troops in here in the State of Connecticut.
I'm in favor, absolutely, of the Middletown museum, and as my brother, Carmelo Figueroa, mentioned, I'm pretty much in favor of anything that may impact not only our veterans, but especially our families.
Thank you very much, if I have any questions.
REP. KALINOWSKI: Sergeant Cruz, thank you very much for coming and testifying today, and thank you to you and your organization for doing the work that you do.
It really is a valuable service that, sometimes there's a disconnect between the VA and the actual troops getting out, so we truly do appreciate it. Do any Members of the Committee have questions?
JUAN CRUZ: My pleasure.
REP. KALINOWSKI: Representative Alberts.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: [inaudible - microphone not on] Mine is not a question but a comment.
I just want to thank you again, Sergeant, for your service and for being here today. You bring to light a very significant, I think, shortfall in the service we're providing to members of the service, and I thank you for your advocacy on their behalf.
JUAN CRUZ: My pleasure, Sir.
REP. KALINOWSKI: Thank you, Senator. Representative Alberts.
REP. ALBERTS: Thank you, and thank you again for your service. I had one question for you.
You mentioned in your testimony that you met with a Massachusetts group, a similar group in Massachusetts. How does Massachusetts deal with this issue? Is there a Hispanic affairs advocate in the State of Massachusetts?
JUAN CRUZ: Yes, Sir. And in this case, as a matter of fact, it's not within the Department of Veterans' Affairs.
What happened is 20 years ago, First Sergeant Gumersindo Gomez, coming from Iraq and doing all the research that he had to do, he started what is called now the Puerto Ricans Veterans' Affairs Association.
What is it called? Massachusetts Puerto Ricans Veterans' Association, it's been in place already 20 twenty years. It's being supported by the state.
He has about, he has two centers, one open in the City of Boston and one in the City of Springfield along with, similar to what we have over here in our Home of Veterans.
It is a transitional home, where he brings a homeless veteran in this case, and he processes that individual for two years, where they receive all the necessary, basic needs to get them back on their feet and providing assistance with trying to get their licenses back in place, trying to fix anything any kind of infraction that they may have with the law.
That's how they help them out. They help them out with the send down, also that the Connecticut Veterans' does which is situation where they come in and they get haircuts.
They get all kinds of medical and, again, basic needs, but currently both of those centers are open at bilingual, multicultural centers.
Any individual, and that's another, and I appreciate your question. Our organization is not necessarily only here for Hispanic-Americans, we're open to any veterans within the State of Connecticut.
Our concern is all those 264,000 veterans here is the State of Connecticut that for one reason or the other are not receiving the services or those benefits that they need.
We're opening the doors. Hopefully, if all this goes through, which we hope, by September 2007, oh, okay, in the State of Massachusetts also they happen to have four lines, budget lines within the State of Massachusetts that are providing funds to these centers which is also commendable.
And again he is the one that came over here and pretty much tell me drill sergeant crews, you know we're both Drill Sergeants, so you are the President, and so I say, you know what?
Let me take the ball and run with it, and that's what I'm here for.
REP. ALBERTS: And you have the ball.
JUAN CRUZ: Roger that.
REP. ALBERTS: Thank you very much.
JUAN CRUZ: Thank you.
REP. KALINOWSKI: Sergeant, one followup, I see you have the key in your pocket, and one of the things Commissioner Schwartz is very proud of and so are we, is the outreach vehicle, the mobile vehicle, so maybe you can work in conjunction with her and do some Hispanic outreach with the vehicle and some of the other functions that vehicle can do.
JUAN CRUZ: Absolutely. As we mentioned the key represents the support that she has given us, and also I just walk into the second floor on the health facility, and our name, again there is a placard there that says Hispanic-American Veterans of Connecticut.
So we're there to do outreach. I currently do that. I'm not going to say for what government agency, but one of my counterparts also retired from the service also comes from the government corporation, and that's pretty much what I do there.
I do community outreach, and that's how pretty much I was targeted, and say Juan Cruz come this way we've got business to take care of. Thank you again.
REP. KALINOWSKI: All right. Well, thank you for testifying, and good luck to you, Sir. Okay. The next speaker would be Debbi Newton, and it would be followed by Tracey Lagasse, I believe. Thank you, Ms. Newton.
DEBBI NEWTON: Good afternoon, Senator Maynard, Representative Graziani, and Members of the Committee. Representative Alberts, hopefully I'll be able to answer in my testimony some of the Tri-Care questions you were asking earlier.
You have my written testimony. Most of what I've written, people have already said much more eloquently than I can because it's been from their public, their own personal experience, but let me explain who I am.
I am Debbi Newton. I am President of the National Guard Association of the State of Connecticut as well as the Legislative Chair and recently was elected to the National Executive Board of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States representing all of New England, New York, and New Jersey.
I'm also a 27-year member of the Connecticut National Guard still serving. I want to make a quick comment on House Bill 6714, the military museum.
It's not in my testimony, but since they brought Stubby up earlier, Stubby the stow-away dog, he has been preserved. He is a stuffed animal now.
We had him in Connecticut over at the Hartford Armory for several years. He is now sitting back down in a vault at the Smithsonian.
With the opening of the Middletown museum or a museum somewhere in the state, we could get him back.
Also, I just attended in the beginning of December the ribbon cutting ceremony at the National Guard Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. for OIF/OEF, and Connecticut is very prominently featured in that with one of our soldiers who is in Afghanistan and Iraq.
His flight tunic is there as well as some other memorabilia and a die cut of one our choppers doing one of those crazy landings and hovering maneuvers in Afghanistan that their pictures were all over the world for, and it's time rather than have to go to D.C. to see this stuff, we should have it in Connecticut too.
I'm only going to concentrate on a couple things in my testimony, because they haven't really been touched on that much today. And the first one is, Proposed House Bill 6384 AN ACT CONCERNING TRICARE MEDICAL BENEFITS FOR MILITARY PERSONNEL.
I mentioned earlier my association with EANGUS, the Enlisted Association, it took us seven years, but we battled. We won the House and Senate and the President all signed Tri-Care for everybody in the military.
All of our, even our traditional N-day folks, those that only work one weekend a month and then two weeks in the summer, they are all eligible to buy into the Tri-Care program now at a 28% cost share.
They buy in at 28%. Federal government will pick up the rest of it, because of that we are going to have an influx of people with Tri-Care in the State of Connecticut.
We need to get more health care professionals taking Tri-Care. Working with this Committee over the last three years, two years with this Committee, the year before with Public Safety as well as other state agencies, we were able to come together and get U-Conn Medical Center to become Tri-Care providers.
Up until last year, they did not do that. The only state funded hospital in the State of Connecticut did not, was not a Tri-Care provider.
They are now. We've worked that. I know we can work together to get the doctors and the other health care systems in the state to start taking Tri-Care.
I can only imagine how many people that we have that are now eligible for Tri-Care that don't already have insurance, because they work for a company that doesn't offer it.
They are self-employed, and they don't have it, and how many of their children are probably in the HUSKY program right now?
Where if we had the Tri-Care and we have places where they can go for the Tri-Care, we can bring people off of the HUSKY program and start using that money to help the kids that don't have access to Tri-Care.
Then the other thing I want to speak on is Proposed Senate Bill 1020, I'm sorry we've already talked about that one, military family relief fund.
You have House Bill 6100 and Senate Bill 750. We fully support House Bill 6100. This will open it up to more people that are on active duty, and it will also protect the funds that are in there by having the funds go directly to the creditor or the vendor as opposed to it, not to my personal knowledge has this happened with anyone in Connecticut, but other funds in other states have had it happen.
The money goes there. They cash the check. They go gambling thinking they can make more money. They use it for drugs. They use it for drinking. They buy clothes for school or whatever instead of what it was intended for.
If the electricity is in danger of being turned off, the check would be cut to the electric company.
We oppose Senate Bill 750, and if you'll indulge me I want to read a portion of my testimony that I gave on February 3, 2005, when this fund was first established and it was in front of this very committee.
Senate Bill 728 seeks to establish and Emergency Relief Fund for families that is supported by a check off box on state income tax forms enabling taxpayers to make contributions to the fund.
During deployments many of our National Guardsmen and Reservists take pay cuts from their civilian jobs and leave families at home with less money to continue living on.
Furnaces break down, water pipes burst, cars stop running, and expenses stay the same as they were before, car payments, insurance payments, mortgages, property taxes.
Having an Emergency Relief Fund for families would help soldiers and airmen to understand that while they are gone, their families will be taken care of in an emergency thus relieving them of one concern, and it gives the families a place to turn in time of need.
As you noticed, I emphasized family throughout that. The name of the fund is the Military Family Relief Fund. Opening it up to veterans' organizations to bring their facilities up to code so that they're accessible to disabled vets or even giving out to help disabled vets bring their, make their homes accessible, there a ton of programs and funding options out there for those.
This fund was set up for the families while their soldier or airman or marine or sailor is deployed to help them with emergencies, and we've been asking taxpayers to check off on their state income tax to support that fund for the families, and I think that's the way we need to keep it.
And if there are any questions, I'd be glad to answer them.
REP. GRAZIANI: I was intrigued on your other testimony here, Debbi. Thank you--
DEBBI NEWTON: What from two years ago?
REP. GRAZIANI: --very much. No. Thank you for coming before us, and I want to thank everybody in the audience for their patience and perseverance for coming up here.
This is very beneficial. It obviously is, stimulates the thought process, to find out the reasons for or against a proposed bill.
I have no further questions, unless any one on this Committee, yes, Representative Alberts.
DEBBI NEWTON: I didn't answer all your Tri-Care questions, did I?
REP. ALBERTS: Well, you didn't. You just sort of left me hanging there. You teased me a little bit, but thank you again for your testimony.
What is the real reason why providers aren't making this available? Is there a lack of interest in it, is it a lack of knowledge, is it just a lack of dollars, they're not going to get paid enough dollars for reimbursement?
DEBBI NEWTON: Well, I think as my Co-Chair, Dennis Oparowski, said earlier the Tri-Care program has come a long way in a very short period time, and with the shrinking of the active duty facilities and not being able to go to them and more people being deployed and more active duty families, there is a lack of coverage out there for everyone.
It could also be a lack of education. A lot of people see it the same as Medicare which, you know, they're going to get their money back, but it's just one more set of paperwork. It's another provider we have to deal with--
REP. ALBERTS: Do you think--
DEBBI NEWTON: --and it's something that's relatively new to the State of Connecticut other than at the sub base.
REP. ALBERTS: Do you think there's a stigma to it, when you said it's like Medicare?
DEBBI NEWTON: I don't think so. I meant that it's like Medicare in the way it's reimbursed, you know, it's another government program, and I don't know.
Maybe the medical community has not had good experience with getting government reimbursement for things. That could be another case, but I'm not the medical community. I can't speak for that.
REP. ALBERTS: Well, thank you very much.
DEBBI NEWTON: And, if I could just make one more comment. I did not provide any written testimony, but by the end of the week I will on House Bill 6946 AN ACT CONCERNING VETERANS' BENEFITS FOR CERTAIN MEMBERS OF THE CONNECTICUT NATIONAL GUARD that would give anybody who's got 20 years or more of eligible service would make them fall under the definition of veterans.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you, Debbi, and a quick question.
SEN. MAYNARD: My apologies, one quick question, I'm just curious about the Tri-Care in southeastern Connecticut. I'm wondering if Lawrence & Memorial or Backus are participating members at the moment.
DEBBI NEWTON: I couldn't tell you that--
SEN. MAYNARD: Okay.
DEBBI NEWTON: --but I will get that information and get it to you.
SEN. MAYNARD: Yeah, my concern is obviously we have a large--
DEBBI NEWTON: Right.
SEN. MAYNARD: --population there that needs to be served, and I've heard anecdotally from physicians in our area, particularly at Backus that there's been some difficulty in reimbursement and so forth, but it'd be great if they could be made to see the, you know, the improved quality of the reimbursement and so forth.
DEBBI NEWTON: Okay. I'll talk to our health services coordinator and get that information for you.
SEN. MAYNARD: Thank you very much.
REP. GRAZIANI: Thank you very much, Debbi, and we know you're only across the street. Our next speaker, Edwin Vargas, all right, Tracey Lagasse.
TRACEY LAGASSE: I'll be brief since I started incorrectly by saying good morning.
REP. GRAZIANI: You were optimistic. We all are. No, thank you.
TRACEY LAGASSE: Good afternoon.
REP. GRAZIANI: Good afternoon.
TRACEY LAGASSE: I want to digress a little bit from what I wrote to address the Tri-Care issue. I worked in a pharmacy for several years, and the introduction and the knowledge and the help system, if you ran into a problem with a Tri-Care claim, was not there available to pharmacists.
I'm sure the same thing occurs with doctors and hospitals. They need 24-7 access to health care, and pharmacies had a difficult time initially.
I think it has gotten better, but I'm here to address House Bill 6952. I was both a member of the Guard, military and civilian. My husband was in the Guard for 22 years.
He is now deceased. He falls into what they refer to as the gray area. He passed away at the age of 43, but he had over 20 years of service.
I am, as his widow, entitled to, he prior to his death, he got a veteran's mortgage from the federal government. I receive a survivor benefits pension from the civil service, again the federal government.
I also receive his military pension from the federal government. I came back to work at the Hartford Armory a year and half ago as an emergency hire.
Much to Colonel McHale's dismay, my daughter wanted her father's ashes buried. He said pick a date. We looked at the brochure. Nowhere in the brochure does it say anything about needing a DD-214 or any requirement other than they be, have 20 years of service was the only requirement to be a veteran.
Colonel McHale and I spoke to the gentleman at the Middletown cemetery and found out after I had told my daughter a date that he could not be buried there.
I feel if the federal government steps up to the plate, the state should do no less. There's, my husband is part of a generation that you're going to be seeing more and more of, the post Vietnam era.
There was no war during the time they served, and they're going to run into the same problem where none of them will be able to be buried in a veteran's cemetery.
They are not planning for the costs of a burial, because they're assuming they're entitled to it, and I'm sure they don't know it, and I also am the only one who brought graphics. You all have a copy of this picture.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Yes.
TRACEY LAGASSE: This is five generations of my husband's family, all served in the military. Everyone in this picture is either buried in a military cemetery or entitled to with the exception of my husband.
That's several generations, and in some cases it only took a six-year enlistment and active duty. [Gap in testimony. Changing from Tape 2B to Tape 3A.]
--he was a career Guardsman. I was talking to Colonel McHale. He was a, you all mentioned the infantry. He was a Company Commander for B Company 169 Infantry, the forgotten infantry. When he was the Company Commander, he had a Sergeant and an E-4 in his company.
That Sergeant and that E-4 are now the commander in the excel of one of the battalions fighting over overseas along with several other members he helped train, and I think the people who are back here, and the people who are living everyday with 24 hour news, we train these soldiers and sent themselves overseas and hear about an explosion and see an aircraft that goes down.
They feel every single one of those until they get a name attached to it. I think it's important that they be recognized also for the excellent training they provided to those members and they be given the same honors, and that's all I.
REP. GRAZIANI: Tracey, first of all, we admire your courage for relating your personal story, and obviously these pictures, it's hard to imagine what you and your family have gone through, but take some consolation that you're the champion of the cause, and I like I said, it's, you should be admired for your courage that, to share your own personal stories and your tragedies.
Thank you for becoming before us. It's rather moving. Any other statements or, thank you very much.
TRACEY LAGASSE: I just have on other thing to add. My daughter wanted to be here today. She couldn't be. She's tougher than me. She would ask you for the date like she asked Colonel McHale if she were here. Thank you.
REP. GRAZIANI: Okay. No, thank you again. Let's see. Who do we have, Mr. Torres? Is there any other member that signed up, if not that will conclude today's public hearing.
[Whereupon, the hearing was adjourned.]