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. As this is our December issue, I’d also like to wish all our veterans the happiest of holidays. God Bless.

In this Update:

  • Military Personnel Exposure to Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits
  • Veterans Temporary Assistance
  • Military Family Relief Assistance Program (MFRAP)
  • Veteran Community Initiatives, Inc. (VCI)
  • Veterans Employment Program
  • Veterans Suicide Prevention
  • Food Assistance for Veterans and Their Families
  • Legislation for Veterans
  • Vet Centers

Military Personnel Exposure to Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has added 3 presumptive conditions related to particulate matter exposure.

The new presumptive conditions are asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis. To be eligible for benefits, you must have gotten one of these conditions within 10 years of your separation from active service.

This will expand benefits for Veterans who served in:

  • Afghanistan, Djibouti, Syria, and Uzbekistan during the Persian Gulf War, from September 19, 2001, to the present, or
  • The Southwest Asia theater of operations from August 2, 1990, to the present

If you have a pending claim for one or more of these conditions, you don’t need to do anything. We’ll send you a decision notice when we complete our review.

For more information about VA benefits and eligibility, or how to file a claim, Veterans and survivors can visit www.VA.gov or call toll-free at 1-800-827-1000.

Veterans Temporary Assistance

The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) offers temporary financial assistance to veterans and their beneficiaries who reside in Pennsylvania for the necessities of life (food, shelter, fuel and clothing), with the amount of assistance not to exceed $1,600 in a 12-month period.

To be eligible, a person must have served in the Armed Forces of the United States and have been discharged under honorable conditions after a period of active duty, other than active duty for training, as evidenced by a DD Form 214 or other official documentation; or died in service or was killed in action; or suffered a service-connected disability as certified by the United States Veterans’ Administration.

The program also has need criteria:

  • Financial circumstances temporarily resulting in insufficient funds to pay for shelter and necessities of living for the Veteran and family, when:
    • A Veteran is temporarily unable to provide the necessities of living and has a direct and immediate need for assistance.  The assistance must be essential and not for the relief of an inconvenience, or the purchase of goods or services other than necessities of living, and,
    • Caused by temporary loss of income, assets or support due to sickness, disability, unemployment, natural or manmade disaster or other cause beyond the control of, and not as a result of, misconduct by the applicant or,
    • Caused by a temporary increase in costs or expenses beyond the control of, and not as a result of misconduct by, the applicant resulting in insufficient funds to pay for necessities of living.
  • They are eligible Veterans or unmarried surviving spouses of deceased eligible Veterans.
  • They are bona fide residents of Pennsylvania who permanently reside in this Commonwealth and who maintain a legal residence in no other state for any purpose.
  • They are not receiving sufficient monetary assistance from any state or federal agency based on the need for temporary assistance described in the application.
  • Applicants may be receiving food stamps and still qualify for temporary assistance under these guidelines.
  • Applicants must show that other funds or resources are not available to address the need for temporary assistance.
  • They demonstrate a clear and present direct and immediate need for temporary assistance in order to provide themselves and their families with shelter and the necessities of living.

To apply for Veterans Temporary Assistance, contact your County Veterans’ Affairs Director for the county in which you reside. For more information about the program, you can email Ra-vta@pa.gov.

Military Family Relief Assistance Program (MFRAP)

The DMVA also provides financial assistance, in the form of grants (of up to $3,500), to eligible Pennsylvania service members and their eligible family members. Eligible members must have a direct and immediate financial need due to circumstances beyond their control. The amount of a grant is based on documented financial need.

The program applies to Pennsylvania residents who:

  • Are serving on 30 or more consecutive days of active duty with the Pennsylvania Army or Air National Guard or Reserve Components of the Armed Forces (Army Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Coast Guard Reserve, and Space Force Reserve.)
  • Are serving on 30 or more consecutive days of active duty with the active armed forces (Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Space Force.)
  • Are serving on 30 or more consecutive days of state active duty for emergencies or duty under the Emergency Management Assistance Compact in the Pennsylvania Army or Air National Guard.
  • Are members in good standing the Pennsylvania Army or Air National Guard or Reserve Component of the Armed Forces for a period of three years after completion of a qualifying tour of active duty of 30 or more consecutive days when the financial need is directly related to the member’s active duty period.
  • Are former members of the Armed Forces of the United States, the Reserve Components and the Pennsylvania Army and Air National Guard for a period of four years after medical discharge for medical disability incurred in line of duty while serving on a qualifying tour of active duty of 30 or more consecutive days when the financial need is directly related to the former member’s service, to exigent circumstances beyond the eligible members control or the disability incurred in the line of duty of the military service.
  • Are eligible relatives of qualified eligible service members in limited circumstances.

Program guidelines, a program brochure and an application form can be found on the program’s website, or applications can be requested from DMVA, MFRAP, Bldg. 9-26, FTIG, Annville, PA 17003-5002 or from PNG Family Assistance Centers.

Applications, with supporting documents, must be mailed to DMVA, MFRAP, Building 9-26, FTIG, Annville, PA 17003-5002. To expedite the application process, applications and supporting documents may be faxed to the MFRAP office (FAX Number: 717-861-9084).

Each application will be reviewed for eligibility and need prior to submission to the PA MFRAP Fund Committee for approval or disapproval. No application is automatically approved.

Veteran Community Initiatives, Inc. (VCI)

Veteran Community Initiatives, Inc. (VCI) is a private, non-profit charitable organization seeking to enhance the lives and well-being of community residents-focusing on veterans and the veteran families. VCI emphasizes assisting with social and economic needs of those who are disabled, disadvantaged, physically and mentally challenged, unemployed and underemployed, substance abusers, and current and previously incarcerated. VCI administers this support by assisting, caring, and advocating for our nation’s most precious resource – our veterans and military.

The services offered by VCI include:

  • Job Search / Career Counseling / Resume Preparation/ Job Fairs / Workshops / Networking.
  • Vet Assistance Outreach Program (VAOP) – ‘A HAND–UP, NOT A HAND–OUT’; one-time payment (maximum) of an outstanding bill or bills due to hardships.
  • Rural Veterans Outreach Program – bringing services and programs to rural veterans rather than veteran going to the ‘VA’ (Urban areas) all the time; VCI goes to the soldiers, rather than having veterans travel to them; 10-15 rural outreaches are done per year.
  • Veteran Assistance Care Program (VACP) to raise awareness and provide services and programs to better improve assistance to needy veterans and their families. Programs include coaching and mentoring to support physical and mental health challenges to our veterans.  VCI works with the VA, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), and other established programs to determine how best to help veterans and their families, including financially.
  • Veterans Court program assistance; Veterans Court Peer Mentor Training and    Coordination of Peer Mentors; PA County Recruitment – Veteran Court Start-up Implementations + Training.
  • An annual Returning Veterans Symposium that deals with Veteran Issues / Concerns – Developing a Community Response.
  • In conjunction with PA VVA, VCI has a Veteran Claims Professional available all day once a week for assistance in filling out claims.

VCI provides and delivers programs and services – at no cost – in 14 counties within Pennsylvania: Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Cameron, Centre, Clearfield, Clinton, Elk, Huntingdon, Indiana, Jefferson, Juniata, Mifflin and Somerset.

VCI is located at 727 Goucher St. in Johnstown, PA 15905, can be reached by phone (814-255-0355), FAX (814-255-0356), and online, where it can also be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Veterans Employment Program

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) last month announced the availability of $800,000 in grant funding through the Veterans Employment Program (VEP) to connect veterans with job opportunities.

Workforce development entities across the commonwealth, particularly in locations with the highest need for these services, are encouraged to apply for the funding. The deadline to apply is Dec. 30, 2021, with eligible applicants to include local workforce development boards, non-profit and non-governmental entities, community-based organizations, education and post-secondary organizations, labor organizations, business associations, and economic development entities.

Additional details about the grant program can be found on the DMVA website.

Veterans Suicide Prevention

According to the VA’s 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, the suicide rate among veterans is 1.5 times greater than the non-veteran population ages 18 and older, with over 6,000 Veterans dying by suicide each year. Despite accounting for just 7.9% of the population, veterans account for 13.5% of all suicide deaths in the United States.

There is no single cause of suicide among Veterans and Service members, but everyone needs to continue to raise awareness, keep the discussion going, and ensure veterans know they are not alone.

Veterans who are in crisis are urged to call the VA’s toll-free Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1. This service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is a free, confidential resource that’s available to anyone, even if you’re not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care.

The caring, qualified responders at the Veterans Crisis Line are specially trained and experienced in helping Veterans of all ages and circumstances.

Food Assistance for Veterans and Their Families

In Northwest and Central Pennsylvania, roughly 20% of households receiving food assistance have at least one member who has served, or is currently serving, in the military.

The Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest Pennsylvania (serving Cameron, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, McKean, Venango and Warren counties) and the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank’s Williamsport Health Food Hub (serving Bradford, Centre, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Lycoming, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga and Union counties) offer MilitaryShare, a Produce Express Program designed to provide fresh, nutritious foods for families with at least one member who has served in the armed forces.

For the convenience and privacy of the individuals and families served, MilitaryShare distributions take place on-site at VA Medical Centers, Veterans of Foreign Wars facilities, and at armories throughout the service areas of the two food banks.

Second Harvest’s Agency Locator can help you find the closest Food Pantry, Produce Express, or Soup Kitchen near you. To learn more about Second Harvest’s special programs for active military personnel or veterans, call 814-459-3663.

The distribution sites for the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank can be found on their MilitaryShare website.

Legislation for Veterans

Last month, the General Assembly passed and Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law bills that seek to honor veterans.

Senate Bill 248, now Act 87 of 2021, designates March 6 as Persian Gulf War Veterans Day and Oct. 7 as Global War on Terrorism Veterans Day in the Commonwealth; the new law also sets Sept. 27 of each year as “First Responders Day.” Additionally, the act requires the governor to issue a proclamation every year encouraging all public schools and educational institutions to observe these special days by conducting exercises recognizing the contributions and sacrifices made by these veterans. The exercises will not be mandated for public schools.

Senate Bill 550, now Act 89 of 2021, requires cemeteries to remove U.S. flags on the graves of veterans when they become worn after Veterans Day and Independence Day as part of the normal course of maintenance. The act also authorizes replacement of flags between Independence Day and Veterans Day and allows for a family member to remove and keep the flag. The law requires the flags to have been made in the United States.

What are Vet Centers?

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 your community. 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.

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 – 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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