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:

  • New Federal Law Regarding Service Member Exposure to Burns Pits, Other Toxic Substances
  • Bill to Allow Veterans’ Employment Preference for Veterans Discharged Due to Medical Disability Becomes Law
  • VA’s Digital Divide Consult Can Help Veterans Access Telehealth Services
  • VA Announces Improvements to Appointment Check-Ins
  • New Pilot Program Offers Veterans Help in Moving Their Careers Forward
  • New Tool Available from AARP to Help Fight Fraud Against Veterans
  • VA Appeals Can Now Be Filed Online
  • My Recommended Read for Veterans in the Month of July
  • Elk County Purple Heart Commemoration Ceremony Applications Being Accepted
  • Vet Centers

New Federal Law Regarding Service Member Exposure to Burns Pits, Other Toxic Substances

The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022 was signed into law last month to address our service members’ exposure to burn pits and other toxic substances. 

The act provides expanded access to health care and disability benefits for veterans harmed by certain toxic exposures, whether in the jungles of Vietnam or the mountains of Afghanistan. It will also let the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) move more quickly and comprehensively in the future to determine if illnesses are related to military service, and it will offer critical support to survivors who were harmed by exposures, including from water contamination at Camp LeJeune.

VA operates the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry to help put data to work for veterans through research about potential health effects of airborne hazard exposures.

By joining the registry, you can provide information to help the VA better understand whether long-term health conditions may be related to these exposures. Even if you have not experienced any symptoms or illnesses you believe are related to exposures during military service, your participation in the registry could help VA provide better care to all veterans.

If you sign up for the registry, the VA is supposed to reach out to you rather than you having to “make your case” to the VA!  This is new for the VA (even veterans with exposure to agent orange had to reach out to the VA rather than the VA reaching out to the veteran).  I highly recommend that veterans sign up with the registry here.

And if you need help navigating the VA bureaucracy, there is assistance available. The VA offers a VA Liaison for Healthcare program as well as Post-9/11 Transition Case Management; the American Legion offers Accredited American Legion service officers who are specially trained to provide expert assistance, free of charge, to veterans and their families; and the VFW offers service officers as well.

This new law makes good on our sacred obligation to care for veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors.

Bill to Allow Veterans’ Employment Preference for Veterans Discharged Due to Medical Disability Becomes Law

Pennsylvania’s Veterans’ Preference Law provides a hiring preference to qualified veterans seeking public employment in line with the skills and experience they obtained during their military training.

Under the current interpretation of state law, a veteran who served honorably but was discharged with a disability before completing their initial military obligation would not be eligible for veterans’ preference. This unfortunately punishes veterans who cannot not meet the commitment through no fault of their own. 

Senate Bill 849, now Act 44 of 2022, will add an exemption for those with a disability discharge and would ensure that veterans with medical discharges are receiving the preference when seeking careers with the Commonwealth.

VA’s Digital Divide Consult Can Help Veterans Access Telehealth Services

Efforts continue to expand access to broadband internet, but a digital divide still exist in many areas of the state, including in many of our rural communities in the 25th Senatorial District.

The divide prevents many veterans from being able to access telehealth care.

However, the U.S Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) offers the Digital Divide Consult, in which a veteran’s VA provider can refer them to a VA social worker. The social worker can determine whether the veteran is eligible for programs that can help them get the internet service or technology needed for VA telehealth.

VA telehealth services enable veterans to meet with their trusted VA provider anytime, anywhere, without sacrificing the personalized care they expect from the VA. According to the VA, more and more veterans have turned to telehealth to save time while still benefiting from face-to-face interaction with their providers. Nationally, the VA says it provides more than 40,000 video telehealth visits into veterans’ homes on a typical weekday – that’s more than the number of visits provided by the VA during an entire month prior to COVID.

A Digital Divide consultation with a VA social worker can determine if a veteran is eligible for the following programs:

  • VA’s Connected Devices Program: Provides eligible Veterans with internet-connected tablets at no cost so they can access VA care through telehealth. VA helps with initial device setup and provides 24/7 tech support for VA-loaned devices.
  • Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) Lifeline program: Subsidizes the cost of broadband and phone services. Many Veterans are eligible for FCC Lifeline benefits. Those benefits include Veterans with low incomes and Veterans who participate in Medicaid, VA pension, VA Survivors Pension, and other federal programs.
  • FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program: Provides eligible households with discounts toward home internet service. Households can also receive a one-time discount to purchase a computer or tablet.
  • EveryoneOn program: Works to connect people living in the U.S. with low-cost home internet service, affordable computers and tablets, and digital literacy training.

To get started with the Digital Divide Consult, veterans should talk with their VA provider. More information can be found on the Digital Divide Consult page.

VA Announces Improvements to Appointment Check-Ins

By the end of August, the VA says some new options will be available for veterans checking in for their in-person VA appointments.

The change has already started, but all VA facilities will, by the end of August, allow veterans to start their appointment check-in process up to seven days in advance of the appointment and check in at the VA clinic using their smartphone on the day of their appointment.

The VA says the changes were prompted by extensive feedback from veterans and caregivers about how the checking-in process can be made better, especially for those who use assistive technologies to access their benefits online.

New Pilot Program Offers Veterans Help in Moving Their Careers Forward

Hundreds of thousands of veterans are unemployed nationally, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, and leaving military service can present veterans, including those currently serving in the National Guard or military reserves, both opportunities and challenges when determining what type of career is the best choice for them.

The Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service recently started a new pilot program to help veterans and their spouses take control of their careers.

The Off-Base Transition Training (OBTT) pilot program consists of 10 two-hour, no-cost workshops designed to help meet veteran employment goals and give participants an advantage in the vast workforce landscape.

In Pennsylvania, OBTT workshops are available in person in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, or virtually.

To explore and register for OBTT in-person or virtual workshops online, go to www.dol.gov/obttworkshops.

New Tool Available from AARP to Help Fight Fraud Against Veterans

Online fraud and fraud attacks against the military community are soaring, with a survey conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) last year finding 33% of active-duty military members and veterans lost money to fraud.

The 2021 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book published by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) indicating a 69% jump compared to the previous year, and that reported fraud resulted in $267 million in financial losses.

To help combat such fraud, the AARP recently launched its Veterans Fraud Center, a new education and resource hub for veterans, service members and their families, offering free information on the latest scams targeting the military community, tips for spotting other types of consumer fraud, and specially tailored resources to help protect veterans and military families.

As we’ve mentioned before in the mission report, pension poaching is a growing problem jeopardizing VA benefits – for more about, AARP has produced a YouTube video offering tips to spot a pension poaching scam.

VA Appeals Can Now Be Filed Online

The backlog on VA claims has been declining a bit in recent months but remains high and roughly double what it was at the end of 2019 prior to COVID.

For those claims that have been decided, if a veteran disagrees with the decision, they can now file their appeal with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals online. To do an online filing of an appeal, you must have a VA.gov account and the request process can be started here.

In addition to filing an appeal online, veterans who selected a hearing can have those hearings held online. There is no need to report in person to a local VA office – all you need is a Wi-Fi connection.

Additional information about virtual tele-hearings can be found here.

My Recommended Read for Veterans in the Month of July

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman retired from the Army after 23 years of experience leading U.S. soldiers worldwide. Today he is the director of the Killology Research Group and has had his work published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Civil Policy. He is an internationally recognized scholar, author, solider and speaker who is one the world’s foremost experts in the field of human aggression and the roots of violence and violent crime.

A former West Point Professor of Psychology and Professor of Military Science, an Army Ranger and a Pulitzer-nominated author, Lt. Col. Grossman has combined his experiences to become the founder of a new field of scientific endeavor, which has been termed “Killogy.” His books “On Killing” and “On Combat” have been placed on the U.S. Marine Corps Commandant’s Required Reading list and have gained worldwide popularity.

Lt. Col. Grossman has served as trainer and keynote speaker for all major national and international law enforcement training organizations and has taught the representatives of literally thousands of federal and regional agencies in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

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.

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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