Senate Bill No. 449
(By Senators Wells, Yost, Jenkins and Fitzsimmons)
[Originating in the Committee on Military;
reported February 12, 2014.]
A BILL to amend and reenact §9A-1-2, §9A-1-5, §9A-1-6, §9A-1-8, §9A-1-9, §9A-1-10, §9A-1-11 and §9A-1-12 of the Code of West Virginia, 1931, as amended, all relating to the administration of the Department of Veterans’ Assistance; redesignating employment positions within the department; providing additional power and authority to the secretary; modifying duties of the Veterans’ Council; authorizing the award of grants to support the transportation of veterans to veterans’ hospitals or to veterans’ assistance offices; and revising language related to the Veterans Facilities Support Fund, which is continued, to include an additional veterans’ skilled nursing facility in Beckley, West Virginia, and providing for the acquisition of property on which to build the facility.
Be it enacted by the Legislature of West Virginia:
That §9A-1-2, §9A-1-5, §9A-1-6, §9A-1-8, §9A-1-9, §9A-1-10, §9A-1-11 and §9A-1-12 of the Code of West Virginia, 1931, as amended, be amended and reenacted, all to read as follows:
CHAPTER 9A. VETERANS’ ASSISTANCE.
ARTICLE 1. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS’ ASSISTANCE.
§9A-1-2. Veterans’ Council; administration of department.
There is continued the “Veterans’ Council” consisting of nine members who must be citizens and residents of this state and who have served in and been honorably discharged or separated under honorable conditions from the Armed Forces of the United States and whose service was within a time of war as defined by the laws of the United States, either Public Law No. 2 –- 73rd Congress, or Public Law No. 346 –- 78th Congress, and amendments thereto. Where feasible, two members of the council shall be veterans of either World War II or the Korean Conflict, at least two members of the council shall be veterans of the Vietnam era, at least one member shall be a veteran of the first Gulf War and at least one member shall be a veteran of the Afghanistan or Iraqi Conflicts. The members of the veterans’ council shall be selected with special reference to their ability and fitness to effectuate the purposes of this article. If an eligible veteran is not available or cannot be selected, a veteran who is a citizen and resident of this state, who served in and was honorably discharged or separated under honorable conditions from the Armed Forces of the United States and who served during any time of war or peace may be selected.
A The secretary and such veterans’ affairs officers, assistants and employees as the secretary considers advisable, shall administer the West Virginia Department of Veterans’ Assistance.
§9A-1-5. Compensation to and expenses of Secretary and Veterans’ Council members; meetings of Veterans’ Council.
(a) The director secretary shall receive an annual salary as provided in section two-a, article seven, chapter six of this code and necessary traveling expenses incident to the performance of his or her duties. The salaries of the veterans’ affairs officers, assistants and employees shall be fixed by the Veterans’ Council. The members of the Veterans’ Council shall receive no salary, but each member shall receive the same compensation and expense reimbursement as is paid to members of the Legislature for their interim duties as recommended by the Citizens Legislative Compensation Commission and authorized by law for each day or portion thereof engaged in the discharge of official duties. The requisition for such expenses and traveling expenses shall be accompanied by a sworn and itemized statement, which shall be filed with the Auditor and permanently preserved as a public record.
(b) The Veterans’ Council shall hold its initial meeting on the call of the Governor, and thereafter shall meet on the call of its chairman, except as otherwise provided. With the exception of the first three meetings of the Veterans’ Council, none of which shall be of a duration longer than two weeks each, for organizational purposes, the The Veterans’ Council shall meet not more than once every two months at such times as may be determined by and upon the call of the chairman for a period of not more than two days, unless there should be an emergency requiring a special meeting or for a longer period and so declared and called by the Governor or by the chairman with the approval of the Governor. A majority of the members of the Veterans’ Council shall constitute a quorum for the conduct of official business.
The members of the Veterans’ Council, the director secretary and the veterans’ affairs officers of the department shall take and subscribe to the oath prescribed by article four, section five of the state Constitution before entering on their duties. Their oaths shall be filed with the Secretary of State.
The offices of the director secretary shall be located at the state capitol or other place provided in the capital city. The director secretary shall keep his or her offices open at all reasonable times for the transaction of business. The offices and meeting place of the Veterans’ Council shall be in the offices of the director secretary: Provided, That the Veterans’ Council with the approval of the Governor may hold meetings at other places but not outside of this state, except in the District of Columbia.
§9A-1-9. Duties of department.
The division Department of Veterans’affairs Assistance of West Virginia shall:
(1) Assist veterans, their widows, dependents and orphans within the state, in properly presenting their claims before the United States Veterans’ Administration, its administrator, or any federal agency, the State of West Virginia, or any of the several states of the United States, when the claims arise out of service with the Armed Forces of the United States as defined in section one of this article;
(2) Contact all veterans’ organizations in this state through their duly elected or appointive officers to effectuate the purposes of this article and aid in the efficiency of the operations of the division department;
(3) Render all possible and proper advice, assistance and counsel to veterans, their families, and their widows, dependents and orphans, within the state, and furnish them information on compensation, allowances, pensions, insurance, rehabilitation, hospitalization, education, vocational training, or refresher or retraining courses in education or training, employment, loans or aid for the purchase, acquisition or construction of homes, farms, farm equipment and business property, preference in the purchase of property and preference in employment, as provided or may be provided by any federal act, any federal agency, this state or other states;
(4) Make careful inquiry into all claims presented for payment out of the State Treasury from any appropriation made for the benefit of veterans, their widows, dependents and orphans.
§9A-1-10. Additional powers and duties of secretary.
The director secretary is the executive and administrative head of the division department and has the power and duty, subject to the provisions of section four of this article, to:
(a) Supervise and put into effect the purposes and provisions of this article and the rules for the government of the division department;
(b) Prescribe methods pertaining to investigations and reinvestigations of all claims and to the rights and interests of all veterans, their widows, dependents and orphans;
(c) Prescribe uniform methods of keeping all records and case records of the veterans, their widows, dependents and orphans;
(d) Sign and execute, in the name of the state by the West Virginia Division Department of Veterans’ Affairs Assistance, and by and with the consent of the Veterans’ Council, any contract or agreement with the federal government or its agencies, other states, subdivisions of this state, corporations, associations, partnerships or individuals;
(e) Supervise the fiscal affairs and responsibilities of the division department;
(f) Organize the division department to comply with the requirements of this article and with the standards required by any federal act or any federal agency;
(g) Establish any regional or area offices throughout the state that are necessary to promote efficiency and economy in administration;
(h) Make reports that comply with the requirements of any federal act or federal agency and the provisions of this article;
(I) Cooperate with the federal and state governments for the more effective attainment of the purposes of this article;
(j) Keep a complete and accurate record of all proceedings; record and file all contracts and agreements and assume responsibility for the custody and preservation of all papers and documents pertaining to his or her office and the division department;
(k) Prepare for the Veterans’ Council the annual reports to the Governor of the condition, operation and functioning of the division department;
(l) Exercise any other powers necessary and proper to standardize the work; to expedite the service and business; to assure fair consideration of the rights and interests and claims of veterans, their widows, dependents and orphans; to provide resources for a program which will promote a greater outreach to veterans and which will advise them of the benefits and services that are available, and to promote the efficiency of the division department;
(m) Invoke any legal, equitable or special remedies for the enforcement of his or her orders or the provisions of this article;
(n) Appoint the veterans’ affairs officers and heads of divisions of the division department, and of regional or area offices, and employ assistants and employees, including case managers and counselors, that are necessary for the efficient operation of the division department;
(o) Provide resources and assistance in the development of an Internet website which is to be used to inform veterans of programs and services available to them through the division department and the state and federal governments;
(p) Delegate to all or any of his or her appointees, assistants or employees all powers and duties vested in the director secretary, except the power to sign and execute contracts and agreements, but the director secretary shall be responsible for the acts of his or her appointees, assistants and employees; and
(q) Provide volunteers who will drive or transport Award grants, as he or she deems advisable, subject to available appropriations, for the purpose of supporting the transportation of veterans to veterans’ hospitals from the veteran’s home or local veterans’ affairs assistance offices. and who shall be paid an expense per diem of seventy-five dollar. The secretary shall, annually for the first three years after the effective date of the amendment to this section, report to the Joint Committee on Government and Finance as to the status of the grants awarded for the transportation of veterans. After reporting for the initial three year period, the secretary shall report to the joint committee once every three years.
§9A-1-11. Establishment of Veterans Facilities Support Fund; authorized expenditures.
There is hereby created continued in the State Treasury a special revenue fund to be designated and known as the Veterans Facilities Support Fund, which shall be administered by the secretary. All interest or other returns earned on the investment of the moneys in the fund shall be credited to the fund. Funds paid into the account shall be derived from the following sources: (1) Any gift, grant, bequest, endowed fund or donation which may be received by any veterans facility created by statute from any governmental entity or unit or any person, firm, foundation or corporation; and (2) all interest or other return on investment accruing to the fund. Moneys in the fund are to be used for the operational costs of any veterans facility created by statute, the acquisition, design, construction, equipping, furnishing, including, without limitation, the payment of debt service on bonds issued to finance the foregoing and/or as otherwise designated or specified by the donor. Any balance, including accrued interest or other earnings, in this special fund at the end of any fiscal year shall not revert to the General Revenue Fund but shall remain in the fund. Funds from the Veterans Facility Support Fund for operational costs will be distributed by appropriation of the Legislature. Funds from the Veterans Facility Support Fund for the acquisition, design, construction, equipping, furnishing, including, without limitation, the payment of debt service on bonds issued to finance the veterans nursing home and an additional veterans skilled nursing facility to be located in Beckley, West Virginia, shall be transferred to the Veterans Nursing Home Building Fund upon written request of the director of the division of Veterans Affairs Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Assistance to the Investment Management Board and the State Treasurer in accordance with the provisions of this section. The secretary is authorized to enter into an agreement with the Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture to transfer all or part of the approximately seventeen acres of Department of Agriculture property in Beckley, West Virginia, located adjacent to the Jackie Withrow Hospital which was formerly known as Pinecrest Hospital, for construction of a veterans skilled nursing facility.
§9A-1-12. Legal assistance.
The Attorney General of the state and his or her assistants, and the prosecuting attorneys of the various counties, shall render to the Veterans’ Council or director secretary, without additional compensation, such legal services as may be required in the discharge of the provisions of this article.
NOTE: The purpose of this bill is to provide consistent use of terms in the existing statutes governing the provision of assistance to veterans through the Department of Veterans’ Assistance, to remove obsolete or superseded language, and to clarify and provide additional power and authority to the Department’s secretary. The bill also authorizes funds from the Veterans Facility Support Fund, if appropriated, to be used for the construction of an additional veterans skilled nursing facility in Beckley.
Strike-throughs indicate language that would be stricken from the present law, and underscoring indicates new language that would be added.