Forward Observer — Why We Need a State Dept. of Veterans Affairs, an Example

Veterans Are Getting Short Rations in the Governor’s Budget

LVMAC Poster Art 2005District 8 of the VFW has once again resolved we need a Department of Veterans Affairs not stuck under the National Guard.  Our Chapter 415 of the Vietnam Veterans of America has just passed their own resolution.  We have heard District 30 of the American Legion also recently passed a similar resolution and other districts like Districts 14 and 19 are also interested in the subject.  Perhaps these grassroots districts, will change the American Legion thinking at state level later in the year.  The state VFW and Military Order of the Purple Heart organizations have been an advocates for a separate department for a while.  The time has certainly come to change the Commonwealth’s manner of dealing with veterans affairs.

As an example, while the proposed executive budget for 2012-2013 just submitted by Governor Corbett increased general funding support to the Ft. Indiantown Gap itself, the veterans community has lost appropriated funding once again.  This was after the Department of Veterans and Military Affairs (the National Guard) decided to offer up about $6 million in savings through staffing reductions and other efficiencies  in the State Veterans Home Bureau after a management review — and after about another projected $7 million in state veterans homes savings this fiscal year.

During this crucial period when we are facing return of greater numbers of returning veterans and increasing needs, due diligence left veterans with less assured to their benefit.  They gained not a jot from the proposed savings.  Attention to the Guard does not solve the problems of  veterans.   It’s almost ironic the Administration intends to wipe out the Veterans Emergency Assistance Fund (which has been continuously reduced over the years) rather than reform it as was needed.

True, there is that matter of creating a restricted fund totaling $1.7 million, called the “Veterans Services and Veterans Outreach Fund.”   While there is some merit to that idea, except for about $400,000 from the dying emergency assistance fund, its funding is primarily contingent on proceeds from the sale of property, specifically the erstwhile Scotland School for Veterans Children’s, itself a recent state government/veterans affairs imbroglio in which significant taxpayer dollars were wasted and veterans organizations’ charity abused.  The additional $1.3 million wanted is not coming from savings found in the state veterans home review, not one iota of it, but through property disposal, if and when it occurs. We hope that  plan is well under way because the funding is needed now, not in later.

One should know how that new restricted fund is to be used, since it is not transparent in the budget as other line items are.  The ultimate intention is to increase funding to Act 66 of 2007 veterans service organization claims officers as wanted by some veterans organizations by$700,00 to about $2.4 million total using this restricted fund rather than seeking additional tax revenues as should properly be done since our state is using veterans organizations to help perform a government responsibility.  There is also to be a transfer of $1 million to a newly established 501(c)(3) called the Pennsylvania Veterans Foundation — not a government program.

You might also be asking yourself why this has all has come about.  Straightened times is not the total explanation. The General Assembly, which controls the purse strings and authorization legislation, does not keep itself particularly well-informed on veterans affairs, despite the war.  Worse, through our legislators we have devised a system incapable of ultimately meeting or responding to the needs of most, modern veterans.  The current system is primarily designed to support 1500 to 1600 veterans in state homes and National Guardsmen, not the other 950,000 veterans in the state.  It was none to good for the past generations of veterans either, according to various reports.   It definitely is not now.  The patching which Act 66 additional funding and the PA Veterans Foundation will provide is insufficient response.   Brigadier General (PA) Michael Gould, the current Deputy Adjutant General for Veterans Affairs, has done some good things to get the state to be more responsive to veterans and should be applauded, but it is the result of individual initiative – not the system we have put in place.  We cannot afford to depend on chance.

Ultimately, we need reform if he and his successors are to be truly successful.  A full-fledged, truly empowered state department of veterans affairs  is needed — not this misbegotten, unplanned, out-of-date, emasculated creation stuck under a now overtaxed National Guard. Our veterans affairs system was never built to a plan.   Other states have done it: only ten still use their Guard to administer veterans affairs, most unsatisfactorily.   Ohio and West Virginia recently created their departments in bad economic times.   We can too. Too many subject areas of importance to veterans transitioning back into civil society are left untouched or uncoordinated; too much neglectful management is in the history of the present arrangement.

And maybe that is what our local American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart and VFW members are seeing needs now to be done also.  Bless them.  Yet, what is really needed is for Pennsylvanians as whole to question why the state’s veterans affairs system is failing.

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RJH

21 February 2012 (updated 13 March 2012)

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