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:
VA Now Working with 1,000+ Community-based Coalitions to End Veteran Suicide
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced it is now working with more than 1,000 local community coalitions engaged in ending veteran suicide. These coalitions, established through the VA’s Public Health Model for Suicide Prevention, now reach more than 7.5 million veterans nationwide.
By combining community coalitions with clinical intervention strategies, these coalitions seek to help reduce the risk of suicide by providing veterans with tailored resources and direct support in the communities where they work and live.
According to the VA, preventing veteran suicide is the agency’s top clinical priority. In September, the VA released the 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, which showed veteran suicides decreased from 2019 to 2020, and fewer veterans died by suicide in 2020 than in any year since 2006.
Local communities can learn more about how to establish coalitions by visiting the Community Based Interventions for Suicide Prevention Overview and emailing VHASPPCBISP@va.gov.
The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) offers several resources to support community partners connecting veterans in crisis to the best possible resources to help them live a safe, healthy, quality life.
If you are a veteran in crisis or concerned about one, contact the Veterans Crisis Line to receive 24/7 confidential support. You don’t have to be enrolled in VA benefits or health care to connect. To reach responders, Dial 988 then Press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or text 838255.
An End to the COVID Public Health Emergency
While it took far too long for our government health officials to recognize the need to end their imposed COVID health emergency, the end was finally announced last month.
For those who use the VA health care system, there will be some changes which the VA recently highlighted on its website.
Here is an overview of how the end of the public health emergency will impact VA care and services: a return to in-person visits for Veteran Family Caregivers; expanded use of VA Video Connect for telehealth; VA clinicians will be allowed to continue to prescribe controlled medicines to veterans following a telehealth examination without first having an in-person examination and work continues to make that temporary rule permanent; veterans experiencing homelessness will no longer receive the additional direct support they were receiving from the VA, though Congress is currently working on a proposal to provide needed assistance and support (for more information, email HomelessVets@va.gov or visit the VA’s webpage for homeless veterans); reinstatement of pre-pandemic deadlines for VA travel reimbursement (after June 9, 2023, veterans submitting a claim for travel reimbursement will have to submit it within 30 days of their VA medical appointment – for more information, visit the Beneficiary Travel Self-Service website); and removal of VA’s legal authority to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to spouses, caregivers and veterans not enrolled in VA health care.
If you are concerned about the expiration of any of these authorities, the VA encourage you to reach out to your local VA medical center, call 800-698-2411 or go to the VA’s Contact Us webpage.
VA Changing Policy Regarding Health Assessments for Transitioning Service Members Filing a VA Disability Claim
Service members are required to meet Department of Defense (DoD) statutory and policy requirements for a separation health assessment before they transition from active-duty service to ensure the service member’s health care needs are addressed before separating.
However, the VA also requires a similar separation examination for those filing disability claims through the Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) program or the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES), to evaluate the claimed conditions and make a rating determination.
It’s no surprise most see these two exams as redundant.
In response to that, the VA and DoD have been engaged in a multi-year effort focused on developing a single comprehensive exam form to be used eventually by both agencies. That work is now done, and according to the two agencies, regardless of which agency conducts the exam, the other will now be able to use the same exam form for all the reasons previously stated.
The VA began using a new Separation Health Assessment Disability Benefit Questionnaire (Parts A and B) on May 1. The DoD is expected to begin using the common form (to include a “DoD Use Only” Part C) later this year.
The new separation health assessment is intended to meet the needs of both agencies while minimizing redundant examinations, streamlining the process and encouraging service members to enroll or participate in additional transition services when warranted.
The Pennsylvania Veterans’ Memorial
Though the Memorial Day 2023 holiday has come and gone, honoring those who have served our country isn’t a one-day thing.
The Pennsylvania Veterans’ Memorial, located at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Annville, Lebanon County, stands in lasting tribute to those who served our state and nation in times of war and peace. This monument is nationally recognized as the largest veteran’s memorial located in any of the national cemeteries.
One way to honor those who served is through donations to the Pennsylvania Veterans’ Memorial Trust Fund.
One hundred percent of donations go toward the upkeep of the memorial, including such things as landscaping, lighting and fountains, as well as needed maintenance for structural and cosmetic components throughout the memorial. The memorial, which was closed in October 2022 for $3.6 million in structural repairs necessitated by 20 years of exposure to the elements, is expected to reopen to the public later this year.
Donations, which are tax-deductible, can be made to the Pennsylvania Veterans’ Memorial Trust Fund online at www.donate.dmva.pa.gov or by sending a check made payable to the “Pennsylvania Veterans’ Memorial Trust Fund” and mailed to: DMVA Office for Veterans Affairs, Bldg. 9-26, Fort Indiantown Gap, Annville, PA 17003-5002. Donations can be made “In Honor Of,” “In Memory Of” or “On Behalf Of.”
Anyone interested in supporting additional veteran’s causes can visit www.donate.dmva.pa.gov to consider contributing to the Veterans’ Trust Fund, the Military Family Relief Assistance Program or any of the six Veterans Homes Resident Welfare Funds.
New Online Resource Available Through the PA Veteran Farming Network
Late last month, the PA Veteran Farming Network unveiled its new website in conjunction with celebrating the 10th anniversary of the creation of the nonprofit organization.
PA Veteran Farming Network serves as Pennsylvania’s grassroots network of veterans, military and their spouses who farm and operate agribusinesses. The organization provides individualized resource referral, connections to other veteran farmers and vetted service providers, convenes educational events and promotes veteran agriculture.
The organization is led by a volunteer board of directors and leverages the power of its network and collaborators in the agriculture and veteran communities to aid with meeting the challenges of building strong and productive farms and agribusinesses.
Veteran-owned PA Brewers Collaborate to Make Beer Whose Sale Supports Veterans
For a fourth-straight year, veteran-owned craft breweries from across Pennsylvania have joined together to produce a special beer whose sale supports Pennsylvania Veterans.
As the brewers – who have named their collaboration “Adapt and Overcome: Got Your Six” – have done previously, the special beer was released throughout Pennsylvania on Memorial Day weekend, with proceeds of sales going directly to the Keystone Military Families organization.
Since 2019, the PA Veterans’ Collaboration Beer has raised over $60,000 dollars to support fellow Pennsylvania veterans.
Not only is the beer brewed by Pennsylvania veterans, but it also includes ingredients from Pennsylvania veteran-owned and operated businesses. To ensure the beer can be made available throughout the state, four regional brewers were used to produce the beer.
You can read more about the beer, as well as where to find it, here.
What are Vet Centers?
I’ve been asked this question by several of my fellow vets and feel it’s important to provide an answer to those who haven’t reached out yet.
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:
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:
For more information, please visit www.vetcenter.va.gov
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