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 January issue, I’d also like to wish all our veterans a Happy New Year.

In this Update:

  • Military Burn Pit Legislation Signed into Law
  • Military and Family Day at the PA Farm Show
  • Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund Now Accepting Applications
    Veterans, Gold Star Families Get Free Entrance to National Parks, Refuges, Other Public Lands
  • State Veteran’s Commission Meeting on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022
  • VA Creates Pilot Program to Improve Services for Veterans Impacted by Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Assault
  • Protect Yourself from Pension Poaching
  • Veterans’ Trust Fund Grant Opportunities Available
  • Vet Centers

Military Burn Pit Legislation Signed into Law

Last month, the Mission Report noted the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) had added 3 presumptive conditions related to particulate matter exposure for veteran exposed to burn pits while on active service.

Later last month, two pieces of federal legislation became law with the hope they could help tens of thousands of veterans who claim they became ill from exposure to burn pits.

One of the bills signed into law is the Department of Defense (DoD) Burn Pits Health Provider Training Act (H.R. 4397), which will require the DoD to implement mandatory training for all medical providers working for the department on the potential health effects of burn pits. The other new law is the Burn Pit Registry Expansion Act (H.R. 4400), which will require the DoD and the VA to expand their registry to include military members who were stationed in Egypt and Syria.

Burn pits were used to incinerate all sorts of waste, hazardous material and chemical compounds at military sites, with veterans advocates saying 86% of post-9/11 veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan indicating they were exposed to burn pits. In 2019, President Donald Trump signed a law that began to phase out the use of burn pits and require the DoD to pinpoint where they have been used to allow the information to be cross-referenced with where sick veterans served. Since 2019, most burn pits have been shut down.

According to news reports, both new laws are expected to take effect immediately with the provider training act helping to train doctors to catch early signs of toxic exposure in an effort to provide more timely care. Advocates for both measures say that for many years, doctors have struggled to pinpoint how service members with no family history of cancer or other contributing factors were becoming ill.

Military and Family Day at the PA Farm Show

The Pennsylvania Farm Show is back and in person this year, running Jan. 8 through Jan. 15 at the Pennsylvania Farm show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg, PA.

On Thursday, Jan. 13, the departments of Agriculture and Military and Veterans Affairs will join forces to recognize Pennsylvania’s service members, veterans and their families at the Farm Show, with the day featuring the popular Army-Navy Cook-Off and cooking demonstrations by current and retired chefs from the Coast Guard, Air Force, and Air National Guard on the PA Preferred® Culinary Connection stage; recognition of veteran farmers in the Homegrown By Heroes program, and much more. Discounts and special promotions for veterans and active duty military will be available from select vendors.

Each day’s schedule of event can be found HERE, and more information about the show can be found the on the 2022 Farm Show website.

Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund Now Accepting Applications

The Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund, which seeks to provide direct assistance to veterans who are in their beginning years of farming or ranching, is now accepting applications through Feb. 14.

The Fellowship Fund does not give money directly to the veteran, but rather to third-party vendors for items the veteran has identified will make a crucial difference in the launch of their farm business.

Awards range from $1,000 to $5,000 and some of the most common purchases include all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), beekeeping equipment, breeding livestock, bulk feed, fencing, scholarships, storage freezers, tractor implements and walk-behind tractors.

Since 2011, the Fund has awarded $3.5 million to veterans.

Veterans, Gold Star Families Get Free Entrance to National Parks, Refuges, Other Public Lands

With the waiving of entrance fees and standard amenity fees by the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, current military service members and their dependents, veterans and Gold Star families now 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.

For purposes of the program, valid forms of veteran identification include an unexpired Department of Defense Identification Card, Veteran Health Identification Card (VHIC), Veteran ID Card or veteran designation on a state-issued U.S. driver’s license or identification card.

Gold Star Families are next of kin of a member of the United States Armed Forces who lost his or her life in a “qualifying situation,” such as a war, an international terrorist attack, or a military operation outside of the United States while serving with the United States Armed Forces.

State Veteran’s Commission Meeting on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022

The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs will host a Pennsylvania State Veteran’s Commission (SVC) meeting at 10 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022, at Arrowheads Community Club, Fort Indiantown Gap, Lebanon County.

The SVC is established in accordance with Title 51 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes. It is comprised of representatives of all major veterans organizations throughout the commonwealth, as well as a representative of the Association of County Directors for Veterans Affairs.

Anyone wishing to attend this meeting who needs special accommodations due to a disability, please contact 717-861-6510.

All presentation materials are posted on the PA State Veterans Commission webpage prior to the official meeting and are available to the public for review. More information about the commission and the meeting agenda can be found on the SVC website. The meeting will be accessible telephonically by calling 1-877-985-7017 and when prompted enter access code: 77087117.

Arrowheads Community Club Mask Policy: All persons entering the Arrowheads Community Club must be wearing a mask; once you arrive at your destination within the club you are allowed to unmask yourself. You must again re-mask when exiting.

VA Creates Pilot Program to Improve Services for Veterans Impacted by Intimate Partner Violence, Sexual Assault

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has created a pilot program seeking to improve services for veterans who have experienced or are experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV) or sexual assault.

According to the VA, the two-year initiative will focus on strengthening community partnerships, training for VA staff and community partners, identifying effective clinical interventions and providing outreach to underserved populations.

Research suggests about one in three women and one in four men in the general population report experiencing IPV, and VA officials say their data show veterans may be disproportionally impacted by IPV.

The pilot program stems from federal legislation enacted in 2020 with the goal of better understanding and addressing IPV and sexual assault among the veteran population.

For more information about available supportive services, visit the VA’s Intimate Partner Violence Assistance Program or the VA’s Military Sexual Trauma Program.

Protect Yourself from Pension Poaching

According to the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA), there are nearly 800,000 veterans in Pennsylvania and over half of them are age 60 and older. Many of these veterans may be eligible for a wide array of benefits from both the DMVA and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), with one such benefit being a VA pension.

Sadly, there are people who prey on veterans, particularly older veterans, seeking to defraud veterans of the benefits they earned while defending our country and our freedoms.

The DMVA notes that some poachers sell financial products of questionable value or charge a fee to restructure assets in order to make the veteran or beneficiary meet income eligibility criteria, while other scams include the promise of pension eligibility for a fee or an offer of a lump sum or advanced loan against a future awarded pension. Scammers have also sold in-home care that is overpriced or is never actually provided to the veteran, while others will cold call veterans and try to sell them assistance in applying for benefits. The scammers request credit card, bank account or other personally identifying information over the phone or through email – you should never provide such information over the phone or through email.

Veterans and their advocates should never pay for assistance to apply for veterans’ benefits. Federal and state laws make provisions for accredited veteran service officers to provide free advice and assistance for veterans to apply for their veterans’ benefits. This includes assistance with completing and filing applications. These experienced men and women are certified professionals who are well-trained and provide great advice to veterans.

There are approximately 200 accredited veteran service officers in Pennsylvania who work within organizations such as the DMVA, county veterans affairs offices and several veterans service organizations. A complete list of county directors and their contact information can be found HERE, and the contact information for Veteran Service Organizations VSOs can be found HERE.

Veterans’ Trust Fund Grant Opportunities Available

Last month, the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs announced it will award up to $1 million in Veterans’ Trust Fund (VTF) grants to non-profit organizations, veteran service organizations and county directors of veteran affairs across the state.

Grant applications must be received no later than 2 p.m. on Wednesday, January 19, 2022.

According to the DMVA, a total of $200,000 in grant funding is available for new, innovative or expanded programs or services operated by the county directors of veterans affairs or the Pennsylvania Association of County Directors of Veterans Affairs. The areas of emphasis for applicants in this category are veterans’ outreach, veterans’ court programs and training and capacity building initiatives.

Up to $800,000 in VTF funding will be available to veteran service organizations with 501(c)(19) status and non-profit organizations with a mission of serving Pennsylvania veterans granted 501(c)(3) status under the Internal Revenue Code. Funding priorities for applicants in this category are employment and education, behavioral health initiatives and other programs or services that address unmet needs of veterans and their families.

Since the grant program began in 2013, 205 grants totaling $5,191,860 have been awarded to organizations providing services to veterans in Pennsylvania.

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. The Dubois Vet Center has a new website which 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.

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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