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 PACT Act Expands Veterans Health Care and Benefits for Potential Toxic Exposures
  • New PA Law Provides Military Inheritance Tax Exemption 
  • Some Helpful Tips About Transitioning from the Military
  • Increase Expected for VA Disability Benefits
  • DMVA Provides Financial Relief Grants to Veterans, Beneficiaries Who Face Unexpected Hardships
  • Senate Committees Hold Hearing on Veterans Homelessness
  • Low-cost Hunting Licenses Available for Military Members, Disabled Veterans, Former POWs
  • Call 988 for Suicide Prevention and Crisis Support
  • My Recommended Read for Veterans in the Month of August
  • Elk County Purple Heart Commemoration Ceremony Applications Being Accepted
  • Two New Recreational Therapy Groups Available at the Dubois Vet Center
  • Vet Centers

New PACT Act Expands Veterans Health Care and Benefits for Potential Toxic Exposures

Last month’s Veterans Mission Report jumped the gun a bit (I apologize for that) and incorrectly indicated the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022 had been signed into law.

The legislation needed a bit more work by the U.S. Congress, which on Aug. 2 was completed by the U.S. Senate.

As noted in last month’s mission report item, the law addresses 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.

New PA Law Provides Military Inheritance Tax Exemption

Recently signed into law, Act 53 of 2022 exempts from Pennsylvania’s inheritance tax the transfer of personal property, whether tangible or intangible, that is the result of a decedent military member.

The act defines “decedent military member” as “an individual who, while serving in the armed forces, a reserve component or the National Guard of the United States, died as a result of injury or illness received while on active duty, including active duty for training.” The term includes both federal and state active duty as evidenced by an official activation order.

Our military members risk their lives every day, protecting all we hold dear. Should they die in that service, their families must not only deal with that immeasurable loss, but they could face burdensome tax liabilities if the deceased military member had an estate in Pennsylvania.

To provide some amount of aid and comfort to these families, the law ensures that instead of worrying about a tax liability, the family and friends of the military member can focus on mourning the loss of their loved one.

Some Helpful Tips About Transitioning from the Military

Life after military service can be a daunting challenge for anyone.

The U. S. Department of Military Affairs (VA) offers some things to keep in mind as you turn the page from the military chapter of your life, reinforcing the advice with stories from veterans who were in your shoes.

The guidance includes planning ahead, building your network, updating (and updating again) your resume, learn how to translate your military experience to civilian professions, and get comfortable talking about yourself.

You can read more about the helpful tips here.

Increase Expected for VA Disability Benefits

The Social Security Administration Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) is expected to be an increase of 8.9% in the next year (the final figure for 2023 will be based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics report of September 2022 inflation data) and Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits and disability rates are expected to rise because of the projected COLA rise.

Continued rising costs across the economy could produce one of the largest annual increases of VA benefits during the last 40 years.

While official 2023 VA disability rates and benefits won’t be released until Oct. 13, 2022, the VA’s weekly YouTube video podcast “the SITREP” explains in a recent podcast what the COLA could mean for veterans and their dependents.

For the current year, VA disability compensation increased by 5.9% (the largest rise in a decade), meaning that for every $1,000 a veteran receives in benefits payments, they’re receiving an additional $59 this year. Spouses and family members receiving survivor benefits saw the same increase in their monthly payments.

DMVA Provides Financial Relief Grants to Veterans, Beneficiaries Who Face Unexpected Hardships

The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) administers the Veterans Temporary Assistance (VTA) program to provides eligible Pennsylvania veterans and their beneficiaries facing a crisis with financial relief for necessities of life such as food, shelter, fuel and clothing.

Eligible veterans or their beneficiaries can qualify for an amount not to exceed $1,600 in a 12-month period. Eligibility requirements include: a person who served in the Armed Forces of the United States (discharged under honorable conditions), died in service or was killed in action, or suffered a service-connected disability.

To apply, contact the County Veterans Affairs Director in the county you reside.

For more information about the program’s criteria, eligibility and needed documentation, go to Veterans Temporary Assistance. You can learn more about the DMVA by visiting here, and the department can be followed on Facebook (www.facebook.com/padmva) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/padmva).

Senate Committees Hold Hearing on Veteran Homelessness

7/26/22 - Efforts to Address Veterans Homelessness

The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee and the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee on July 26 hosted a joint hearing in Pittsburgh to learn about the progress made to combat veteran homelessness, as well as what improvements can still be made.

During the hearing, the committee heard of the many struggles and hurdles veterans face. They also heard incredible stories from veterans who received the help and assistance they needed and their dedication to now assist others who face similar issues. 

One such issue is the significant delays in veterans getting copies of their DD-214.  This causes significant delays when veteran service organizations try to connect veterans with services and programs that are designated for them. My vets have been telling me about the financial cliff where they earn just above the income threshold and are refused services.  Testifiers in this hearing put this on the record. 

Testifiers explained that a strong collaboration between federal, state and community partners is critical to most effectively help veterans – particularly when they have circumstances that present unique challenges like being responsible for a larger family or a pet.

The hearing testifiers included Brig. Gen. Maureen Weigl, Deputy Adjutant General for Veterans Affairs, Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs; Allen J. Lockard, Director of Veterans Affairs for Indiana County; Timothy Martin, Chief Veterans Affairs Officer for Allegheny County; Rob Hamilton, Veterans Place of Washington Boulevard; Sally A. Mounts of City Mission of Washington County; William M. Reed of Veterans Outreach of Pennsylvania; and Janine Wytovich of Veterans Leadership Program.

Low-cost Hunting Licenses Available for Military Members, Disabled Veterans, Former POWs

Pennsylvania hunting licenses for the 2022-23 hunting season recently went on sale (June 13), and for those members of our military – or former military members – thinking about heading out into “Penn’s Woods,” getting a license can be fairly inexpensive.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission website lists all the different types of licenses available for purchase – including where they can be purchased – and for state residents who are currently serving on active and full-time duty in the U.S. Armed Forces or the U.S. Coast Guard (and meet other requirements), the cost of a license (which includes one antlered deer tag, one fall turkey tag, one spring turkey tag and small game hunting privileges for one license year) is just $1, plus $1.97 in administrative fees.

It’s the same cost for a state resident who, within the previous 24 months, has been deployed overseas as a member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard or Air National Guard on active Federal service, or a reserve component of the armed forces for a period of 60 consecutive days or more, or was released early from such service because of injury or disease incurred in the line of duty. Former prisoners of war (POWs) can also purchase a one-year hunting license for $1 plus the $1.97 administrative fee.

And there’s no charge for a hunting license for state residents who are disabled veterans and meet the commission’s criteria.

Call 988 for Suicide Prevention and Crisis Support

If you’re a Veteran having thoughts of suicide or concerned about one, reach 24/7 crisis support through the new Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) number: Dial 988, then Press 1.

Dialing 988 will connect callers directly to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The Lifeline’s trained crisis response professionals support individuals considering suicide, self-harm, or any behavioral or mental health need for themselves or people looking for help for a loved one. Lifeline services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at no cost to the caller.

There are 988 counselors located at 13 crisis call centers around Pennsylvania who can immediately provide phone-based support and connections to local resources.

And while there’s a new, easier number to call, the old VCL phone number isn’t going away. Veterans will still be able to call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to connect with responders. The VCL will also still be available by chat (VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat) and text (838255).

My Recommended Read for Veterans in the Month of August

It Doesn’t Take a Hero; The Autobiography of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf

He collected his team, set the goals and led our armed forces to defeat a nation state in a conflict that was over in 100 hours.

This book details key elements, not only of the war but of events in his life which formed General Schwarzkopf’s style of leadership which brought about this remarkable success. 

What I especially love about this book is that the directness he used in dealing with Saddam Hussein and the American media that caused Americans to rally behind him is also on full display in the book; even when he’s being critical of himself.

This is a good book for anyone, not just military personnel. It is as much about character as it is about leadership and the things which gave our nation this incredible victory.

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 yet reached out to me or the Center. 

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 get help for 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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