Senator Cris Dush E-Newsletter

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If you know a Veteran, please forward this issue to them.  There are some important updates, resources and information they can use.

In this Update:

  • Local Governments Helping Veterans on Property Taxes
  • PA ABLE Savings Program Could Help Disabled Veterans
  • Virtual Veteran Town Hall Series Set for 2022
  • How to Be Certified as a Veteran-owned Business
  • VA’s Weekly Video Series ‘theSITREP’ Answers Questions About Veterans-related Topics
  • VA-sponsored Program Seeks to Help, Support Veteran Caregivers
  • PA National Guard Offers Summer Opportunity for At-risk Teens
  • The PA 529 Program is a Great Way for Anyone to Save for College or Career Training
  • Elk County Purple Heart Commemoration Ceremony Applications Being Accepted
  • Vet Centers

Local Governments Helping Veterans on Property Taxes

In last month’s Mission Report, I mentioned Pennsylvania operates a Real Estate Tax Exemption program that provides real estate tax exemption for any honorably discharged veteran who is 100% disabled, a resident of the commonwealth and has a financial need.

A recent article in the Potter Leader-Enterprise highlights that some counties are doing a bit more for their veterans regarding property tax exemption.

The Potter County Board of Commissioners last month adopted a resolution that eliminates the program’s wartime service requirement and extends the real estate tax exemption to “peacetime” veterans who meet all the program’s other eligibility requirements established by the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Additionally, should the veteran die, the resolution allows the surviving spouse to apply for the exemption if they do not remarry and meet all other state exemption requirements.

The change means the benefits of the program can be accessed by those veterans who served during non-war periods, which fall between the identified war periods of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War era and the Gulf War (which is designated as starting August 2, 1990, but has yet to have a future date set by law or presidential proclamation) – the specific wartime periods are delineated in the eligibility requirements for veteran pension benefits.

According to the news article, Tioga County also intends to do a similar expansion of the tax exemption program.

PA ABLE Savings Program Could Help Disabled Veterans

In 2016, the Achieving a Better life Experience, or ABLE Act, became Pennsylvania law and created PA ABLE accounts that give individuals with qualified disabilities, their families and friends a tax-free way to save for disability-related expenses, while maintaining government benefits.

Administered by the Pennsylvania Treasury, the accounts allow people with disabilities and their families the opportunity to save up to $100,000, without affecting eligibility for important government benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income or Medicaid. The withdrawals from the accounts for qualified expenses related to an individual’s disabilities are also considered exempt from federal and state taxes, and the accounts are not subject to Pennsylvania’s inheritance tax.

Currently the program is available to people whose disabilities started prior to age 26, though state and federal officials, including Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity and Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey, are urging the age limit be raised to 46. According to Treasurer Garrity, a million veterans nationwide could be eligible to get some extra help with the age expansion.

To learn more about how you might be able to save money with the program, the Pennsylvania Treasury Department is hosting free webinars, with the next one for individuals with disabilities, families and professionals scheduled for Tuesday, April 19 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. An archived webinar from February 2021 can be found HERE.

Virtual Veteran Town Hall Series Set for 2022

The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) has announced five Virtual Veteran Town Hall to provide veterans with a convenient platform to learn and ask questions about programs and benefits earned through their military service.

  • March 16, 5-6:30 p.m. – Veteran Suicide Prevention
  • May 18, 5-6:30 p.m. – Serving Older Veterans
  • July 13, 5-6:30 p.m. – Resources for Homeless Veterans
  • Sept. 14, 5-6:30 p.m. – Transportation Issues Facing Veterans
  • Nov. 2, 5-6:30 p.m. – Honoring Veterans for Their Service and Sacrifice

Participants will have the opportunity to ask questions of the presenters live during a chat feature. Visit the DMVA’s website two weeks prior to each Town Hall for the link to participate.

The first of the five virtual Town Halls will take place from 5-6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 16, by WebEx. The topic will be veteran suicide prevention, with a focus on the support and resources available to veterans throughout the commonwealth.

How to Be Certified as a Veteran-owned Business

The Bureau of Diversity, Inclusion & Small Business Opportunities (BDISBO) with the Pennsylvania Department of General Services (DGS) verifies self-certified small businesses that wish to participate as Veteran Business Enterprise (VBEs) and Service Disabled Veteran Business Enterprises (SDVBEs) through Pennsylvania’s Veteran Business Enterprise (VBE) program.

Eligible small business must hold certifications as veteran-owned businesses or service-disabled veteran owned businesses with one of the DGS’ approved third-party certification entities (including the Vets First Verification Program through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization).

CLICK HERE for the step-by-step process to complete self-certification as a small business and verification as a VBE, and for more detailed instruction, see the application guide.

VA’s Weekly Video Series ‘theSITREP’ Answers Questions About Veterans-related Topics

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a weekly YouTube video series called “the SITREP” that focuses on a wide variety of topics, including VA disability, VA home loans, VA health care and plenty more.

Some of the more recent YouTube videos have tackled questions about:

  • How your Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income SSI) might be affected by your decision to retire.
  • How receipt or eligibility for SSDI could affect VA disability or VA benefits.
  • VA pensions for surviving spouses.
  • Help for homeless veterans.

You can subscribe to the channel on YouTube, and you can sign up for a weekly, digital newsletter.

VA-sponsored Program Seeks to Help, Support Veteran Caregivers

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) sponsors Building Better Caregivers® (BBC), an online workshop designed to help caregivers of veterans with dementia, memory problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, a serious brain injury or any other serious injury or illness.

The program offers 6 weekly self-paced lessons, facilitator guidance, group support and access to an alumni community for program graduates, with the program’s goals being to enhance caregiver skills and knowledge, reduce caregiver stress and depression, and increase their overall well-being.

Each workshop is moderated by a pair of trained peer or professional facilitators with caregiving experience. Training includes taking the BBC workshop, attending four webinars, and following a detailed protocol. Facilitators remind participants to log on, model action planning and problem-solving, offer encouragement, and post to the bulletin boards. They also monitor the daily posts for safety and report problems.

The caregiver must meet criteria and be willing to participate in the support program in either the Program of Comprehensive Assistance (PCAFC) or Program of General Caregiver Support Services (PGCSS) programs.

PA National Guard Offers Summer Opportunity for At-risk Teens

Applications are now being accepted for an at-risk teen summer academy that will be run by the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) and the National Guard Bureau, in consultation with the state Department of Education.

According to state officials, the Keystone State Challenge Academy (KSCA) is intended to be a high-energy, positive learning environment for at-risk teens – those ages 16 to 18 who have dropped out of high school – to further their educations and set a path to a brighter, more promising future. Given it will be run by the National Guard and DMVA, the KSCA will feature a structured and disciplined residential program built on a military-based training model. The academy’s organizers say they hope that providing an educational experience outside of a traditional school setting will interest, excite and engage students, as well as renew opportunities for success in work or further education.

The academy is planned to officially open on July 16, 2022, at Fort Indiantown Gap in Annville, Lebanon County. Attendees will undergo a 22-week residential course where they may work to obtain a GED or high school credits, learn life and job skills, improve self-discipline, practice teamwork and perform acts of service to the community. There is no tuition fee and students are not required to perform military service in exchange for their attendance at the academy. Meals, housing, uniforms and school supplies will be provided at no cost.

The PA 529 Program is a Great Way for Anyone to Save for College or Career Training

The Pennsylvania Treasury’s PA 529 College Career Savings Program helps families save and pay for higher education with big tax advantages.

But PA 529 accounts aren’t just for four-year colleges and universities, as they can also be used to help pay for technical or vocational training, apprenticeship programs and community colleges.  

If you’d like to learn more about the program, Treasury has hosted and continues to host webinars families about two plans it offers: the PA 529 Investment Plan and the PA 529 Guaranteed Savings Plan. The next live webinar is on Wednesday, April 13 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., but there are archived webinars on the Treasury’s PA 529 website.

Elk County Purple Heart Commemoration Ceremony Applications Being Accepted

To recognize, thank, and honor our United States military veterans who were awarded the Purple Heart Medal, the Elk County Commissioners will be holding a ceremony on Saturday, Oct. 8.

Living United States veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces and were awarded the Purple Heart Medal are eligible to participate in the ceremony. Lapel pins being presented in a dignified manner to each Purple Heart recipient during the public ceremony to be held at 1 p.m. at the Fox Township Community Building, 370 Main Street, Kersey, PA 15846.

RSVP’s for the ceremony are due by Sept. 30 and can be submitted by telephone (814-776-5370) or by filling out an application and mailing it to Elk County Veterans Affairs, PO Box 448, 300 Center Street, Ridgway, PA 15853.

What are Vet Centers?

I’ve been asked this question by a number of my fellow vets that question and feel it’s important to provide an answer that those who haven’t reached out yet might have. 

VA Vet Centers provide free and confidential readjustment counseling for War-Zone Veterans and their families, World War II to the current Global War on Terror.

Vet Centers are small, non-medical, counseling centers conveniently located in our region. They’re staffed by highly trained counselors and team members dedicated to seeing you through the challenges that come with managing life during and after the military.

Our region is served by the DuBois Vet Center, which is one of 12 Vet Centers in Pennsylvania and over 300 across the country. Whether you come in for one-on-one counseling or to participate in a group session, at Vet Centers you can form social connections, try new things, and build a support system with people who understand you and want to help you succeed. The Dubois Vet Center’ website  is designed to provide veterans, family members, and community partners the ability to see what services the center offers, as well as the center’s Community Access Points with a picture of the entrance so first time visitors have a frame of reference to help guide them in.

From my time in the State House through my current position, I’ve had a strong relationship with the Dubois Vet Center.  They have helped me help many of my fellow vets.

Who is eligible to receive services at Vet Centers?

Vet Center services are available to Veterans at no cost, regardless of discharge character, and without the need to be enrolled in VA health care or having a service-connected disability. If you are a Veteran or service member, including members of the National Guard and Reserve, you can access Vet Center services if you:

  • Served on active military duty in any combat theater or area of hostility.
  • Experienced military sexual trauma (regardless of gender or service era.)
  • Provided mortuary services or direct emergent medical care to treat the casualties of war while serving on active military duty.
  • Performed as a member of an unmanned aerial vehicle crew that provided direct support to operations in a combat theater or area of hostility.
  • Accessed care at a Vet Center prior to January 2, 2013 as a Vietnam-Era Veteran.
  • Served on active military duty in response to a national emergency or major disaster declared by the president, or under orders of the governor or chief executive of a state in response to a disaster or civil disorder in that state.
  • Are a current or former member of the Coast Guard who participated in a drug interdiction operation, regardless of the location.

Contacting your local Vet Center

Even if you are unsure if you meet the criteria to receive services from a Vet Center, please contact a center. From personal experience I can tell you that, if the center can’t help you, they’ll find someone who will.

Center services are also available to family members when their participation would support the growth and goals of the Veteran or active-duty service member. If you consider them family, so does your local center. Bereavement services are also available to family members of Veterans who were receiving Vet Center services at the time of the Veteran’s death, and to the families of service members who died while serving on active duty.

The DuBois Vet Center, located at 100 Meadow Lane, Suite 8, DuBois, PA 15801, can be contacted at 814-372-2095 or toll free 24/7 at 1-877-WAR-VETS(927-8387).

The other Vet Center locations in Pennsylvania are:

  • Bucks County Vet Center, 2 Canals End Road, Suite 201B, Bristol, PA 19007, 215-823-4590
  • Erie Vet Center, 240 West 11th Street, Suite 105, Erie, PA 16501, 814-453-7955
  • Harrisburg Vet Center, 1500 N. Second Street, Harrisburg, PA 17102, 717-782-3954
  • Lancaster Vet Center, 1817 Olde Homestead Lane, Suite 207, Lancaster, PA 17601, 717-283-0735
  • Norristown Vet Center, 320 East Johnson Highway, Suite 201, Norristown, PA 19401, 215-823-5245
  • City Center Philadelphia Vet Center, 801 Arch Street, Suite 502, Philadelphia, PA 19107, 215-627-0238
  • Northeast Philadelphia Vet Center, 101 East Olney Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19120, 215-924-4670
  • Pittsburgh Vet Center, 2500 Baldwick Road, Suite 15, Pittsburgh, PA 15205, 412-920-1765
  • Scranton Vet Center, 1002 Pittston Avenue, Scranton, PA 18505, 570-344-2676
  • White Oak Vet Center, 2001 Lincoln Way, Suite 280, White Oak, PA 15131, 412-678-7704
  • Williamsport Vet Center, 49 East Fourth Street, Suite 104, Williamsport, PA 17701, 570-327-5281

For more information, please visit www.vetcenter.va.gov

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