Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill E-Newsletter

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If you know a veteran, please forward this issue to him or her. There are some important updates, resources, and information.

In this Update:

  • New PACT Act Expands Veterans Health Care and Benefits for Potential Toxic Exposures
  • New PA Law Provides Military Inheritance Tax Exemption 
  • 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
  • What are Vet Centers?
  • Who is Eligible to Receive Services at Vet Centers?
  • Contacting Your Local Vet Center

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

Last month’s Veterans Enews 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 article, 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 as 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.

There is assistance available if you need help navigating the VA bureaucracy. The VA offers a VA Liaison for Health care 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.

Helpful Tips About Transitioning from the Military

Life after military service can be daunting 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, learning how to translate your military experience to civilian professions and getting 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, 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 provide 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 York County Veterans Affairs Director Terry Gendron by calling 717-771-9218 or emailing tgendron@yorkcountypa.gov.

For more information about the program’s criteria, eligibility and needed documentation, go to Veterans Temporary Assistance. You can learn more about the DMVA here, and the department can be followed on Facebook here and Twitter here.

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 what’s been done 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 long time it can take veterans to get copies of their DD-214. This causes significant delays when veteran service organizations try to connect veterans with services and programs designated for them.

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 went on sale on 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.

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 here and text by dialing 838255.

What are Vet Centers?

VA vet centers provide free and confidential readjustment counseling for war-zone veterans and their families, from 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 York Vet Center, which is one of 12 vet centers in Pennsylvania and more than 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.

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 Jan. 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.

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 York County Vet Center, located at York County Veterans Affairs Office, 2401 Pleasant Valley Road, Suite 101, York, PA 17402, can be contacted at 717-782-3954.

The other vet center locations in Pennsylvania are:

  • Bucks County Vet Center, 2 Canals End Road, Suite 201B, Bristol, PA 19007, 215-823-4590
  • DuBois Vet Center, 100 Meadow Lane, Suite 8, DuBois, PA 15801, 814-372-2095
  • 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, 717283-0735
  • 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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