Senator Cris Dush E-Newsletter

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If you know a veteran, please forward this issue to them (you can sign up for my mission reports here). There are some important updates, resources and information they can use.

In this Update:

  • Wishing You the Merriest of Christmases!
  • Wreaths Across America
  • Operation Troop Appreciation
  • Rural Veteran Care
  • Training Available to Help Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans and Their Families
  • Veterans Eligible for Free Lifetime Pass to National Parks and Other Public Lands
  • Help Improve the VA Website
  • My Recommended Read for Veterans in the Month of December
  • Vet Centers

Wishing You the Merriest of Christmases!

As this is the December edition of the Veterans Mission Report, I’d like to pass along my hope that you have a Merry Christmas filled with joy and blessings, and my wish that you have a happy and prosperous New Year.

Wreaths Across America

Our veterans, from the Revolutionary War to present day conflicts, are devoted sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers. They come from all backgrounds in life to place those lives on the line for our freedoms.

Every single one deserves to be remembered.

That’s why each December since their start in 1992, on National Wreaths Across America Day (this year, that’s Dec. 17), the organization Wreaths Across America carries out their mission “To Remember, Honor and Teach” by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as at more than 3,400 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea and abroad.

Across the country parents and grandparents, aunts, and uncles use this day as a way to teach the children in their lives the solemnity in respect of those veterans that we should each show at their graves.

For more about this great organization and the work that they do, and, if you’re interested, how you can get involved, click here.

Operation Troop Appreciation

The holiday season can be tough, especially for our military overseas and our veterans back home.

Operation Troop Appreciation (OTA), since its creation in 2004, has provided support to hundreds of thousands of members of the military and our veteran communities through the generous donations of private individuals, small business partnerships and corporate sponsors.

OTA is a Pennsylvania non-profit corporation with a federal Section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. All donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. They work with military units to develop “wish lists” of items intended to help ease the burden of deployment, and then collect those items and ship them to their military points of contact. OTA also sends letters to deployed units, expressing gratitude for their daily service and sacrifice. A committee of OTA volunteers continues to correspond with any soldier who wishes to keep in touch. The organization also operates its “Welcome Home” program, which seeks to fill the gaps in the support our veteran community receives by helping to prevent homelessness and provide a “hand-up” for our veterans experiencing poverty.

When I was deployed to Iraq, my troops and I greatly appreciated the thoughtful gifts that concerned and caring individuals sent to us and reminding us of why we were willing to serve there. I can attest the appreciation is truly as heart-felt as the gift.

OTA is always in need of entertainment items, food, hygiene items, cleaning supplies, bedding and other household items to help our deployed troops and returned veterans. These items can be mailed to their post office box: Operation Troop Appreciation, PO Box 18052, Pittsburgh, PA 15236. They also accept money donations that allow OTA to purchase requested items and provide assistance to veterans.

Additionally, OTA works with local churches, schools, civic groups and individuals who wish to conduct collection drives for needed items. If you are interested in conducting a collection drive, or if you’d like to become an OTA volunteer, please contact OTA at info@OperationTroopAppreciation.org.

Rural Veteran Care

Every person is different, that’s why the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is working to provide through its “Whole Health” program personalized approaches that seek to address the full range of factors impacting veterans’ health, well-being and overall quality of life.

And as those of us who live in rural areas can attest, there are plenty of additional challenges to getting the health care one needs, such as higher poverty rates, travel limitations and provider shortages.

The VA’s Office of Rural Health is continuing to work on various initiatives to enhance rural veterans’ wellness through stress reduction, nutrition, health coaching, mindfulness and more. A couple examples offered by the VA include the Rural Veteran Wellness and Community Engagement Initiative, Teleyoga and Telephone Lifestyle Coaching (TLC).

The Rural Veteran Wellness and Community Engagement Initiative seeks to leverage the benefits of community service to help rural Veterans strengthen interpersonal connections, find a renewed sense of purpose, and enhance their overall quality of life. The initiative matches participants with local volunteer opportunities, helping improve mental and physical health.

TeleYoga provides rural veterans with virtual access to yoga techniques that have been shown to improve chronic pain, mental health and quality of life – all things that can be challenges at times for many veterans during their lives. According to the VA, for many veterans, yoga’s greatest benefit is its comprehensive approach to improving daily life.

TLC focuses on connecting rural veterans with health coaches in one-on-one consultations. Those coaches help veterans set realistic goals to improve their overall health and well-being across in such areas as managing weight, increasing activity, reducing stress, eating wisely and limiting alcohol.

Training Available to Help Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans and Their Families

As part of ongoing efforts to prevent suicide among service members, veterans and their families, the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) is offering Military Cultural Competency Training, provided by Psych Armor at no cost, to community partners, providers and others to support strategies related to their suicide prevention action plans.

Additional information about the training content can be found here along with registration and information on accessing the training portal. These 15 trainings will be available through the portal through December 2025. OMHSAS has the ability to train 300 people on a first come, first serve basis.

Please take advantage of these evidenced-based trainings available now, and work in partnership to provide services to our service members, veterans and military families our commonwealth.

Veterans Eligible for Free Lifetime Pass to National Parks and Other Public Lands

Last month on Veterans Day, the National Park Service unveiled a lifetime pass providing free entrance to national parks for Veterans and their families.

The Interagency Military Lifetime Pass waives entrance fees for the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as standard amenity recreation fees for the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sites for current military service members and their dependents, veterans and Gold Star families.

Veterans and their families have free access to approximately 2,000 public locations spread out across more than 400 million acres of public lands, which host activities to fit any lifestyle, from serene to high octane, including hiking, fishing, paddling, biking, hunting, stargazing, camping, and much more.

In recent years, veterans and Gold Star families were able to receive annual passes, but as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2022, the Military Pass has been expanded to include a pass that does not expire.

To obtain a lifetime pass when visiting one of the federal recreation sites, veterans can present one of the four forms of acceptable ID: Department of Defense ID Card, Veteran Health ID (VHIC), Veteran ID Card, or veteran’s designation on a state-issued U.S. driver’s license or ID card. The pass can also be obtained by visiting https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/pickup-pass-locations.htm. Gold Star Families can obtain information, self-certify that they qualify, and download a voucher by visiting the U.S. Geological Survey’s online store at https://store.usgs.gov.

Help Improve the VA Website

If you’re a user of the VA’s website, the VA is asking for your input to help improve the website.

According to the VA, it’s easy to do and doesn’t take a huge time commitment – and the VA will even compensate you for your time to help them improve the website’s content, products, tools and services.

Veterans, veteran caregivers and family dependents – from every age group and demographic – are all eligible.

To sign up and help the VA improve its website, click here.

My Recommended Read for Veterans in the Month of December

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Wall Builders in Texas (no, not the border wall but rather an organization that houses the largest collection of documents from America’s Founders in private hands) and actually hold documents from Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin.  I was also able to learn some history that hasn’t been taught in most American schools in over 100 years.

When we signed up to put our lives on the line in defense of the United States Constitution it means something.  Discovering what was left out of our educations on this important matter had a tremendous impact on me.

The American Story, The Beginnings is an easy, thoughtful and thoroughly documented book about America’s spiritual, moral, military and governmental leaders and the prayer and thought which went into that document we put our lives on the line for. 

My recommendation and hope is that all veterans would read this and do two things:

  1. Use it to teach the young people in your lives about our founding (it’s easy to understand) and
  2. Use it as a starting point to inspire you to do more studying of our history and The Word of God.  The citations account for about 1/3 of the book and can point you to original source documents rather than someone’s (i.e., your former teachers, media talking heads and others) personal interpretations (or misinterpretations) of these writings.

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.

Two Recreational Therapy Groups Available at the Dubois Vet Center

As part of a national competition, the DuBois Vet Center was approved for initial funding for two recreational therapy groups.

One of the groups is an introduction to fly tying for fly fishing, with one of the center’s counselors being an avid fly tyer and fisherman. The other group is a no sew blanket group, which the center hopes will generate interest from women veterans, but the group is open to anyone who would like to join.

The groups will be held at the Vet Center with approximately 4 cohorts to run quarterly with 6 vets in each cohort. The center says it hopes to grow these groups and potentially be able to have them at the center’s Community Access Points (CAPs) in McKean, Centre and Blair counties, with the possibility of adding more recreational therapy groups in the future.

The center noted the initial funding will help them launch the groups, but they will be actively trying to obtain additional funding they can expand on them.

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 Jan. 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 DuBois Vet Center recently announced counseling and referral services are now being provided at the State College American Legion Post 245, in addition to the many services they offer at their locations in DuBois, Altoona, Bradford, Penn State-DuBois, Smethport and their mobile Vet Center.

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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