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:

  • VA’s Veteran Crisis Line is Available to Help
  • VA Launches $20 million Innovation Challenge to Reduce Veteran Suicide
  • Pennsylvania Agriculture Veteran Grant Program
  • Virtual Veterans Town Hall on Monday, June 6 at 10 a.m.
  • Unemployed? The VA’s Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program (VRRAP) Could Help
  • Injured Veteran Housing in PA
  • Buying a House Isn’t Easy Right Now for Anyone, and for Veterans it Could be Tougher
  • Federal Program Offers Affordable, Low-cost Internet Access to Eligible Households
  • My Recommended Read for Veterans in the Month of June
  • Elk County Purple Heart Commemoration Ceremony Applications Being Accepted
  • Two New Recreational Therapy Groups Available at the Dubois Vet Center
  • Vet Centers

VA’s Veteran Crisis Line is Available to Help

If you’re a veteran going through a tough time and thinking about reaching out, know you are not alone and the Veterans Crisis Line is available to support you.

The line is confidential, free and always a phone call or text away for any veteran any time, day or night – you don’t have to be enrolled in VA benefits or health care to connect.

When you call, you’ll connect to a qualified responder trained to help veterans through any crisis. They’ll work with you to make sure you’re safe and, if you’d like, connect you to the services you need.

You don’t need to meet any special qualifications to contact the Veterans Crisis Line. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or text 838255 to receive confidential crisis support 24/7.

VA Launches $20 million Innovation Challenge to Reduce Veteran Suicide

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is inviting innovators across the country to participate in Mission Daybreak, a $20 million challenge designed to help VA develop new suicide prevention strategies for veterans.

Those interested are encouraged to submit their detailed concept papers, via the Mission Daybreak webpage, to the VA no later than July 8, 2022.

Proposed solutions for Mission Daybreak should seek to address one or more of the designated challenge focus areas outlined in the Mission Daybreak webpage.

During Phase 1, which will award $8.5 million (30 recipients each receiving $250,000), all challenge participants will have access to a collection of open data, surveys, and reports on Veteran suicide prevention as they prepare their concept papers. Innovators and collaborators are also invited to join the Mission Daybreak solver community, which helps solvers expand and augment their teams with interdisciplinary expertise.

Those who received awards in Phase 1 will then move to the Phase 2 accelerator, where they will gain exclusive access to tailored resources. An additional 10 teams will each receive a Promise Award of $100,000.

Phase 2 will award $11.5 million, with two first-place winners each receiving $3 million, three second-place winners each getting $1 million, and five third-place winners will each receiving $500,000.

To learn more and hear from experts, solvers are encouraged to register for the upcoming virtual information sessions, visit missiondaybreak.net.

Pennsylvania Agriculture Veteran Grant Program

The Pennsylvanian Department of Agriculture is soliciting applications to conduct one or more “mini-grant” programs for Fiscal Year 2022-23 for the benefit of military veterans entering or expanding farm operations or related business. Veterans’ services, agricultural and other organizations are encouraged to apply for the funding to deliver grants to military veterans for farm and related business start-ups and expansion.

Depending upon the quality of applications, one to three awards of up to $100,000 each may be given with a cap of $10,000 per individual veterans for mini-grants. The subgrants to veterans can support a diverse range of expenses from food safety and biosecurity planning to equipment, marketing and working capital.

Applications are due by Friday, June 17, 2022, at 5 p.m. Interested applicants must submit a complete electronic proposal and grant application using the Department of Community and Economic Development’s Electronic Single Application through https://www.esa.dced.state.pa.us/Login.aspx.

Virtual Veterans Town Hall on Monday, June 6 at 10 a.m.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will hold a virtual town hall on Monday, June 6 at 10 a.m.

According to the VA, the town hall will provide important VA updates and presentations from VA Pittsburgh Health System leadership, as well as representatives from Veterans Benefits Administration’s Pittsburgh Regional Office and the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies.

The virtual town hall is part of the VA’s ongoing effort to hear from you and use your feedback to improve VA care. CLICK HERE for more information about the event.

Unemployed? The VA’s Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program (VRRAP) Could Help

If you’re unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program (VRRAP) offers education and training for a variety of high-demand jobs so you can get back to work.

VRRAP covers education and training programs approved under the GI Bill and Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC) that lead to high-demand jobs. These include associate degrees, non-college degrees and certificate programs. The Department of Labor determines what’s considered a high-demand job for VRRAP.

If you’re eligible for VRRAP, you can get up to 12 months of tuition and fees, and a monthly housing allowance based on post-9/11 GI Bill rates.

If you think you might be interested, don’t wait to check out the program because the VA says it will stop accepting new VRRAP enrollments on Dec. 11, 2022 or when they reach either the $386 million funding limit or the 17,250 participant limit, whichever comes first. If you’re already enrolled in a program under VRRAP, you’ll continue to get your payments.

To find out more about the program or how to apply, see the VRRAP website.

Injured Veteran Housing in PA

The organization Homes For Our Troops builds and donates specially adapted custom homes for severely injured post-9/11 veterans to enable them to rebuild their lives.

Each of the homes is equipped with over 40 major special adaptions and exceeds ADA compliance standards, providing full accessibility for the veteran. For a listing of the organization’s injured veteran home builds in Pennsylvania, CLICK HERE.

Buying a House Isn’t Easy Right Now for Anyone, and for Veterans it Could be Tougher

Since the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Home Loan Program originated as part of the original GI Bill in 1944, the VA has guaranteed more than 26 million home loans for veterans.

However, while it’s seen as a pathway to homeownership for middle-class Americans, the VA Home Loan program is not without obstacles, according to the American Legion and some in the home financing industry.

Last month, the Navy Federal Credit Union, a top VA lender, published results of a survey of 1,000 active duty servicemembers and veterans from around the country that indicated there remain serious misconceptions about the loan program by those who could use it. Additionally, in testimony presented to Congress in December 2021, the American Legion stated VA loan homebuyers have struggled to compete with conventional loan homebuyers because of biases, restrictions and inflexibilities within the current real estate market.

While requests have been made of federal lawmakers to provide more flexibility within the VA Home Loan Program, active duty servicemembers and veterans are also urged to learn more about the program and its benefits, and when the time comes, work with experienced real estate agents who understand the VA Home Loan Program.

The VA recently produced two videos in conjunction with the National Association of REALTORS discussing the VA Home Loan Program. CLICK HERE for Part 1: VA Loans 101, and HERE for Part 2: Reducing Barriers for VA Borrowers.

Federal Program Offers Affordable, Low-cost Internet Access to Eligible Households

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s Affordable Connectivity Program provides a discount of up to $30 per month that can be used toward broadband service for eligible households.

Additionally, 20 leading internet providers will offer ACP-eligible households a high-speed internet plan for no more than $30 per month. Eligible families who pair their ACP benefit with one of these plans can receive high-speed internet at no cost.

According to the VA, approximately 2.5 million veterans are eligible for the program. To check if you’re eligible, go to ACPBenefit.org to submit an application or print out a mail-in application, and contact your preferred participating provider to select an eligible plan and have the discount applied to your bill.

Some providers may have an alternative application that they will ask you to complete.

Eligible households can enroll through a participating broadband provider or directly with the Universal Service Administrative Company using an online or mail-in application.

My Recommended Read for Veterans in the Month of June

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.

Two New 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 new recreational therapy groups.

The DuBois Vet Center has not had, to this point, any recreational therapy groups, so the center has expressed their excitement to offer these services.

One of the groups will be 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.

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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