Senator Ryan Aument 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:

  • PA ABLE Savings Program Could Help Disabled Veterans
  • Virtual Veteran Town Hall Series Set for 2022
  • Becoming Certified as a Veteran-Owned Business
  • VA’s Weekly Video Series ‘theSITREP’ Answers Questions About Veterans-Related Topics
  • VA-Sponsored Program Seeks to Help, Support Veteran Caregivers
  • PA National Guard Offers Summer Opportunity for At-Risk Teens
  • Preference in State Hiring Available for Veterans
  • PennDOT Services to Benefit Veterans
  • What are Vet Centers?
  • Who is Eligible to Receive Services at Vet Centers?
  • Contacting Your Local Vet Center

PA ABLE Savings Program Could Help Disabled Veterans

 In 2016, the Achieving a Better Life Experience, or ABLE Act, became Pennsylvania law and created PA ABLE accounts that give individuals with qualified disabilities, their families, and friends a tax-free way to save for disability-related expenses, while maintaining government benefits.

Administered by the Pennsylvania Treasury, the accounts allow people with disabilities and their families the opportunity to save up to $100,000, without affecting eligibility for important government benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income or Medicaid. The withdrawals from the accounts for qualified expenses related to an individual’s disabilities are also considered exempt from federal and state taxes, and the accounts are not subject to Pennsylvania’s inheritance tax.

Currently the program is available to people whose disabilities started prior to age 26, though state and federal officials, including Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity and Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey, are urging the age limit be raised to 46. According to Treasurer Garrity, a million veterans nationwide could be eligible to get some extra help with the age expansion.

To learn more about how you might be able to save money with the program, the Pennsylvania Treasury Department is hosting free webinars, with the next one for individuals with disabilities, families and professionals scheduled for Tuesday, April 19 from 6-7 p.m. An archived webinar from February 2021 can be found here.

Virtual Veteran Town Hall Series Set for 2022

The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) has announced five Virtual Veteran Town Halls to provide veterans with a convenient platform to learn and ask questions about programs and benefits earned through their military service.

  • March 16, 5-6:30 p.m. – Veteran Suicide Prevention
  • May 18, 5-6:30 p.m. – Serving Older Veterans
  • July 13, 5-6:30 p.m. – Resources for Homeless Veterans
  • Sept. 14, 5-6:30 p.m. – Transportation Issues Facing Veterans
  • Nov. 2, 5-6:30 p.m. – Honoring Veterans for Their Service and Sacrifice

Participants will have the opportunity to ask questions of the presenters live during a chat feature. Visit the DMVA’s website two weeks prior to each town hall for the link to participate.

The first of the five virtual Town Halls will take place from 5-6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 16. The topic will be veteran suicide prevention, with a focus on the support and resources available to veterans throughout the Commonwealth.

Becoming Certified as a Veteran-Owned Business

 

The Bureau of Diversity, Inclusion & Small Business Opportunities (BDISBO) with the Pennsylvania Department of General Services (DGS) verifies self-certified small businesses that wish to participate as Veteran Business Enterprise (VBEs) and Service Disabled Veteran Business Enterprises (SDVBEs) through Pennsylvania’s Veteran Business Enterprise (VBE) program.

Eligible small business must hold certifications as veteran-owned businesses or service-disabled veteran owned businesses with one of the DGS’ approved third-party certification entities (including the Vets First Verification Program through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization).

Click here for the step-by-step process to complete self-certification as a small business and verification as a VBE, and for more detailed instruction, see the application guide.

VA’s Weekly Video Series ‘theSITREP’ Answers Questions About Veterans-Related Topics

 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a weekly YouTube video series called “the SITREP” that focuses on a wide variety of topics, including VA disability, VA home loans, VA health care, and plenty more.

Some of the more recent YouTube videos have tackled questions about:

  • How your Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income SSI) might be affected by your decision to retire.
  • How receipt or eligibility for SSDI could affect VA disability or VA benefits.
  • VA pensions for surviving spouses.
  • Help for homeless veterans.

You can subscribe to the channel on YouTube, and you can sign up for a weekly, digital newsletter here.

VA-Sponsored Program Seeks to Help, Support Veteran Caregivers

 

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) sponsors Building Better Caregivers® (BBC), an online workshop designed to help caregivers of veterans with dementia, memory problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, a serious brain injury, or any other serious injury or illness.

The program offers six weekly self-paced lessons, facilitator guidance, group support, and access to an alumni community for program graduates, with the program’s goals being to enhance caregiver skills and knowledge, reduce caregiver stress and depression, and increase their overall well-being.

Each workshop is moderated by a pair of trained peer or professional facilitators with caregiving experience. Training includes taking the BBC workshop, attending four webinars, and following a detailed protocol. Facilitators remind participants to log on, model action planning and problem-solving, offer encouragement, and post to the bulletin boards. They also monitor the daily posts for safety and report problems.

The caregiver must meet criteria and be willing to participate in the support program in either the Program of Comprehensive Assistance (PCAFC) or Program of General Caregiver Support Services (PGCSS) programs.

PA National Guard Offers Summer Opportunity for At-Risk Teens

Applications are now being accepted for an at-risk teen summer academy that will be run by the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) and the National Guard Bureau, in consultation with the state Department of Education.

According to state officials, the Keystone State Challenge Academy (KSCA) is intended to be a high-energy, positive learning environment for at-risk teens – those ages 16 to 18 who have dropped out of high school – to further their educations and set a path to a brighter, more promising future. Given it will be run by the National Guard and DMVA, the KSCA will feature a structured and disciplined residential program built on a military-based training model. The academy’s organizers say they hope that providing an educational experience outside of a traditional school setting will interest, excite, and engage students, as well as renew opportunities for success in work or further education.

The academy is planned to officially open on July 16, at Fort Indiantown Gap in Annville, Lebanon County. Attendees will undergo a 22-week residential course where they may work to obtain a GED or high school credits, learn life and job skills, improve self-discipline, practice teamwork, and perform acts of service to the community. There is no tuition fee and students are not required to perform military service in exchange for their attendance at the academy. Meals, housing, uniforms, and school supplies will be provided at no cost.

Preference in State Hiring Available for Veterans

In recognition of their service to our country, veterans are eligible to receive preference in state hiring in Pennsylvania. If a veteran passes a civil service appointment test, 10 points will be added to his or her score. Eligibility requires that the veteran:

  • Completed his or her term of military service
  • Was honorably discharged prior to taking the civil service exam, and met one of the following:
    • Met a military commitment in the U.S. Armed Forces before July 27. 1953.
    • Served in the U.S. Armed Forces since July 27, 1953 (includes the completion of basic training), or
    • Served in the Guard or Reserve (includes completion of basic training) and:
      • Completed the first term of service, or,
      • Completed at least one period of service other than for training since Aug. 2, 1990.

If after taking the civil service exam and having the 10 points added to the score, a veteran is among the top three candidates for an appointment, the veteran will be given mandatory hiring preference compared to non-veterans.

Anyone who has questions about eligibility or required discharge documentation is encouraged to call the State Civil Service Commission at 717-787-6039.

PennDOT Services to Benefit Veterans

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) offers services that benefit nearly 800,000 veterans who call Pennsylvania home.

One service allows veterans to request a designation on their driver’s license or ID card. While there is no charge for the designation, applicants must pay any initial issuance, renewal, or duplicate driver’s license or ID card fees. To qualify, a person must self-certify and have received a Certificate of Release or Discharge from active duty (DD214) or equivalent for service in the United States Armed Forces, including reserve components or the National Guard.

Veterans can also identify their branch of service or depict certain military honors received during their tour of duty via military-themed registration plates. Read more about specific requirements and the types of plates here.

Another benefit PennDOT offers is waiving the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Knowledge and/or Skills Test for Pennsylvania residents who are on active or reserve military duty or recent honorably discharged veterans. Service members must have at least two years of experience operating a commercial motor vehicle as part of their military job requirements. Read more here.

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 your community. 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 Lancaster 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 – if the center can’t help you, they’ll find someone who can.

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 Lancaster Vet Center, located at 1817 Olde Homestead Lane, Suite 207, Lancaster, PA 17601, can be contacted at 717-283-0735 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
  • 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
  • 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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