Veterans Diversion Courts: The Veterans Affairs Committee is looking into Veterans Diversion Courts at this time. It has observed what has gone on in Philadelphia and notes that there are now such courts in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Lackawanna Counties of this state. It is going to start off by getting a speaker or two on the subject to come to a council meeting so the council and our community have a better understanding of what it is about and what is involved. It’s not a parole program. It has to do with steering a life back before prison time, not after. Judges, attorneys, mental health professionals, the VA, police, and others must all be involved to make it successful.
Scholarship Program: The scholarship program has been revamped as was reported at the last council meeting. It’s a major overhaul of the program to keep up with the changing times. If we guessed wrongly, we will readjust, but currently there is renewed emphasis on veterans seeking employment and their children plus those willing to make an active duty service commitment while in college (ROTC). A new business plan has been developed and a new brochure and application forms have been created. The new scholarship committee will meet 22 February to start off the new cycle. See LVMAC Scholarship Program Brochure .
Homelessness: The VA Summit at the Allentown Clinic was cancelled due to weather but nothing has been rescheduled despite inquiries. LVMAC plans on making some of its homelessness support distributions in the coming quarter.
Veterans Sanctuary: We anticipate it will go on line as an operational unit by April. Robert Csandl, Executive Director, of Treatment Trends, the parent corporation, spoke on 4 February at the State Veterans Commission on the need for this apparently unique, residential, therapeutic facility for those with chronic, co-occurring disorders like PTSD, mild TBI, and drug and alcohol addiction in our area and in the state. The state Veterans of Foreign Wars has initiated a statewide fundraising campaign in its support. Hopefully some other state level veterans organizations will follow suit. LVMAC values it for its potential and partly in light of the fact the VA has failed to provide this third most populous area of the state with a VA Veterans Center, despite surrounding it with distant centers too far away. Perhaps state government will see the need to support this valuable gem of a program. Meanwhile the local Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 415 has adopted and formed a committee to support the sanctuary on some special projects such as being lead for a book drive. If you are interested in helping, the HOW TO HELP page lists some current needs.
Military Support: Looking toward an all-expenses paid, April Bounce-U event for service members and recently returned veterans and their families, all expenses paid. We are appreciate of the management of Bounce-U in our area stepping up forward. Meanwhile, we are crashing completion of a booklet to educate families and extended families on recognizing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and in assisting them in finding the resources available to help, both government and non-government. There have been far too many sad experiences in our area.
Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing: Our partner, Trout Unlimited – Hokendauqua, is looking to a a Spring event and an all-expense paid trip at end of June to a place in Jamison PA, just south of Doylestown. Meanwhile it is conducting fly-tying instruction over the winter months.
Governmental Affairs: At the state level,
- SB 76, Sen. Greenleaf has filed a bill in January now with the VAEP to amend the application deadline to apply for compensation through the state’s Vietnam Conflict Veterans Compensation Act (aka War Bonus) to 31 Dec 2013. Currently the act has expired.
- SB 345, Sen. Baker, chair of the Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee (VAEP) has reintroduced a bill into her committee on 31 January to empower and recognize the duties of county directors in the 21st century, and with some interesting phraseology to make them responsive to the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs in a desire to raise their standards. This has been done at the urging of the PA State Association of County Directors of Veterans Affairs and others.
- SB 376, Kasunic Bill, for a State Department of Veterans Affairs has been reintroduced. Referred to Senate VAEP on 3 February.
- SB 385 has been introduced by Senator Baker to modify Pennsylvania’s Real Estate Tax Exemption Law which applies to a some disabled veterans by limiting exemption to 5 acres surrounding the primary dwelling . There have been other problems with this law as written also. Referred to Finance Committee without VAEP review on 11 Feb. See veterans affairs news below for more details about the program.
- Nothing significant from the house — other than dealing with license plates and bridge/road naming.
- We have asked Rep Barrar, the new chair of the House VAEP to speak in September.
Veterans Affairs News:
- VA Home Loan Mortgage Guarantee Program: The VA has recently improved his home loan mortgage program. One can now get eligibility certified digitally at the point of service. A lot of electronic changes are going on currently under Secretary Shinseki’s drive to make the VA more effective and efficient. It also may be able to help veterans in danger of foreclosure on their homes. At least it has made an effort to do so, though not always widely known. For more information visit –>http://www.benefits.va.gov/homeloans/
- PA Real Estate Tax Exemption: There seems to be confusion over the PA 100% Real Estate Tax Exemption. Below is a condensed explanation of the law as currently written and how to apply:
Purpose: To provide real estate tax exemption for any honorably discharged veteran who is 100% disabled, a resident of the Commonwealth and has a financial need.
Veteran’s eligibility criteria:
- Served in the military honorably
- Served during established war service dates as determined by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs **
The following decorations can also be used to establish wartime service: Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal or Navy Expeditionary Medal.
- Must have a 100% permanent and total service-connected disability rating by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or as the result of military service the veteran is blind or paraplegic or has sustained the loss of two or more limbs
Blind: Visual acuity of three-sixtieths or ten two-hundredths, or less normal Vision
Paraplegic: The bilateral paralysis of the upper or lower extremities of the body
Residency Requirements: Must be a resident of the Commonwealth. Must occupy the real estate as his/her principal dwelling. Dwelling is owned solely by the veteran or as an estate in the entirety.
Needs based: Must prove financial need: Veteran must prove financial need according to the criteria established by the State Veterans Commission if their annual income exceeds $81,340. Applicants with an annual income of $81,340 or less are given a rebuttable presumption to have a need for the exemption. An applicant whose gross annual income exceeds $81,340 will be considered to have a financial need for the exemption when the applicant’s allowable expenses exceed the applicant’s household income. The applicant’s monthly household expenses will be calculated to include a cost of living allowance and dependent’s allowance.
**Surviving spouse clause: Upon the death of a qualified veteran, tax exemption may pass on to the unmarried surviving spouse if financial need can be shown.
Procedures: Chapter 5, Title 43
Current Policy:: June 2009 This is the document that established the “5 acre limit” rule unless exception requested and approved.
Where to apply: Contact the County Veterans Affairs Director in the county you reside to apply for this program.
What happens after the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs certifies a “financial need” for the Disabled Veterans Tax Exemption and eligibility criteria has been verified? The Board for the Assessment and Revision of Taxes will grant the tax exemption. Cases that have been granted tax exemption will be reviewed periodically (every 5 years) to determine continued need for exemption from certain real estate property taxes.
16 February 2011