SENATOR MENSCH SAYS STATE MUST PAY MORE ATTENTION TO ITS VETERANS
State Senator Bob Mensch, 24th District, spoke to the Council at its business meeting on 18 April 2012.
A Valley Forge Military Academy graduate, he served in the Army Reserve as a platoon sergeant of a heavy engineer equipment platoon during the Vietnam Era. Currently, among other committees, he serves on the Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, headed by Senator Lisa Baker. He is on the only legislator in the valley to so serve on a veterans affairs related committee.
He began by stating he recognizes that the Vietnam War veterans often returned with unattended problems and with little due respect from their society. He has had buddies who suffer from Agent Orange diseases and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Consequently, he feels strongly we must do better by our veterans.
Things are significantly different now, he related, and we have learned to respect our troops, no matter our disagreements about the current war. Nonetheless, our state legislature is not doing as good a job as it should in helping to catch returning veterans who need help, particularly in the area of mental health and PTSD.
Sen. Mensch thinks the volunteer military has proven itself. The fact that many have three or four tours of combat theater duty means we owe them a whole lot more – he means an “intellectual attitude towards them.” He then went onto elaborate:
For one thing, in the area of homelessness we do not really know the number affected but we know the problem exists. “We need to do a better job in identifying and bringing them into the fold.” The state’s Office of Veterans Affairs is expanding the use of state veterans homes to provide transitional beds and, therefore, make more beds available in the state..
He thinks the Pennsylvania Office of Veterans Affairs is doing a better job of working with Pennsylvania’s veterans, “but we need to do more with employment, working with the Department of Labor and Industry to find veteran friendly businesses and to give veterans preferential treatment. He recognizes it is a tough labor market and suspects, when “welfare” numbers are added to unemployment, about 18% of veterans are currently unemployed. [See LVMAC Tidbit on JOVE.]
For him, behavioral health is the single biggest issue on which we must work. We need to find other providers in addition to the Department of Veterans Affairs. We need to do a “gap analysis of insurance companies providing mental health care.”
We have one of the best state-level educational programs for veterans in his opinion, but what he related was really about the fact that about 40 per cent of the state budget goes to education, 40 per cent to welfare, 4 per cent to service the debt, and 7 per cent for the Department of Corrections – leaving only 9 per cent of the budget to address public safety, financing the Assembly, supporting veteran, etc..
He bragged about one bill, which would allow each legislator to make one nomination per year of a candidate for the Valley Forge Military Academy and Two -Year College, which does evidently feeds the Guard early commissioned officers (He noted the PA Guard is the second most active Guard in the country). It costs the state nothing, for the expense of the ROTC program scholarship is borne by the Federal government (supplemented by the Department of Education or the Educational Gratuity Programs?).
Finally Mensch listed some other benefits provided by the state to its veterans: the Real Estate Tax Exemption Program which he thinks should be expanded to all permanently disabled; the Veterans Emergency Assistance Program for those struggling financially [slated for dissolution with the 2012-2013 budget, if the Governor’s proposition is accepted.], the Paralyzed Veterans and Blind Veterans Pensions, and the Educational Gratuity Program [for children of veterans with 100% permanent, service-connected disability].
The Assembly also has a military installation and bases caucus which addresses issues concerning Indiantown Gap Military Reservation (IGMR) and the Scotland School for Veterans Children (which the state closed recently). He remarked that IGMR is the probably the largest Guard/Reserve installation in the country without sufficient perimeter security and the legislature is trying to address this. [It has been a point of the Adjutant General’s appropriation testimony this year, in addition to state educational funding for National Guardsmen.]
Sen. Mensch concluded with “less than one per cent of the state budget goes to Veterans Affairs, but veterans of 10 per cent of the Commonwealth’s population (implying again more can be done for them).
The Board in its April meeting approved the Veterans Affairs budget which will now outlay up to $47, 088 in the coming year.
It also agreed to reform the Military Support Committee. We need someone to step forward to chair it. Meanwhile, the Veterans Affairs Committee will incubate a Community Educational Outreach Committee.
PROJECT HEALING WATERS FLY FISHING
Trout Unlimited – Hokendauqua is conducting its next major event, a Fly Fishing Outing, on May 5th 2012 at Bob Saks’ Pond. The event is fully booked.
Cohen & Feeley is conducting several fundraisers to support LVMAC and Veterans Sanctuary. The primary one, called “Salute to the Heroes”, is in conjunction with the Steelhawks (indoor arena football) game at Stabler Arena on 19 May. It will also include a pregame silent auction and autograph session. Earlier in the afternoon a Military Forum will also be conducted. All are paying events. Starters Restaurants will also donate a percentage of their proceeds, we have heard.
Pat diLuzio is revising our homelessness program. To start, we will implement a media plan, for we do not think the plight of homeless veterans gets enough attention from the local service agencies and, in general, Lehigh Valley, major community governments must become more involved in homelessness to the level of forming homeless commissions, as has Allentown. We also need more collaboration from the local VA Medical Center.
HEALTHCARE IN OUR COMMUNITY WITH THE VA (HOCVA)
Speaking of collaboration, Eric Johnson will conduct our fourth meeting on 19 April with the VA Liaison Officers from the hospitals and other service providers. The Wilkes-Barre VAMC has formally agreed to work with us. The next meeting will be at the VA clinic. The current tasks are as we have reported before:
– Complete an assessment of the current state of mental health and medical services by non-VA hospitals in our area.
– Develop a protocol to pre-identify/actively screen for veteran patients in order to factor military experience into diagnosis and treatment plans (tailored care).
– Compile a resource guide or manual to assist in the previous item.
– Design and deliver education to clinicians and others related to veteran culture and health care implications of military experience.
We are expecting to conduct a CEO level meeting in the summer.
Dave Newton and his subcommittee continue on with their job skills training program. It’s going to be a slow road to growth for this worthy program.
The AFL-CIO held a resource fair for the unemployed on 12 April at the IBEW Hall at 12th and Liberty in Allentown. Only three or four veterans showed up. We are not the only ones having marketing issues.
The state needs to get smart and directly support programs like the Veterans Sanctuary if it is to address the problems of returning veterans. While same cannot be said of the Federal government, state government has done little in an organized fashion. As we discussed last time at our council meeting, we are now helping to fund it with a seed grant of $13,500 for this year which allows it to offer interest free loans to clients, repayable whenever. No longer will a veteran have to wait for service because of finances.
Its official, the DAV is now sending a service officer again to the Allentown VA Clinic. As a result, there is an on-site service officer every day of the week once again.
We’re still looking for a volunteer driver for the Northampton clinic. Get the word out to your organizations. Details can be found on the LVMAC blog site under the LVMAC News.
SDVA: We hear the Navy Club, which is a member of the Pennsylvania War Veterans Council and an organization which wishes to lay down roots in the Lehigh Valley also, is considering a resolution calling for a State Department of Veterans Affairs. As we reported last time, the Vietnam Veterans of America have already done so and the Military Order of the Purple Heart and Veterans of Foreign Wars are expected to reconfirm their desire for a department in the summer. The Military Officers Association is an adherent, also. We are hopeful the American Legion will change its mind this summer.
OVA Strategic Plan: The Office of Veterans Affairs at state level, tucked away under the National Guard, has produced its first, ever strategic plan. We encourage you to read it. The need for one was pointed out by LVMAC in a white paper to the Governor, while identifying other shortfalls in the current system.
DFAS Scam Email – Spoofing: There are emails being sent to individuals, including military members, military retirees, and civilian employees, which appear to be sent by a DFAS employee. The emails indicate that individuals who are receiving disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) may be able to obtain additional funds from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These emails are not issued by DFAS and will likely result in a financial loss if you comply with the suggestions in the email. Bottom line – do not send your personal information or copies of your DD Form 214, RAS statement, tax returns and 1099s to a so-called retired Colonel who lives in Florida – it could result in financial harm to you..
Source: Latest News, < http://www.dfas.mil/>. Accessed 17 Apr 2012.
VA Expands Medical Forms Program to Support Faster Claims Processing: The Department of Veterans Affairs announced today the release of 68 new forms that will help speed the processing of Veterans’ disability compensation and pension claims. They bring to 71 the number of documents, called disability benefits questionnaires (DBQs), which guide physicians’ reports of medical findings, ensuring VA has exactly the medical information needed to make a prompt decision.
They are for the use of both VA and private physicians. Getting doctors to do correct, complete medical examinations has been a constant bain for the VBA and a dirty little secret. It has contributed to the buildup of the backlog it is experiencing. [Another problem has been competency on part of those who submit, to include service officers at county and vet org level.] Hopefully this will help. Veterans who choose to have their private physicians complete the medical examination can now give their physicians the same form a VA provider would use. It is very important that physicians provide complete responses to all questions on the DBQs. VA cannot pay for a private physician to complete DBQs or for any costs associated with examination or testing.
DBQ’s can be found at http://benefits.va.gov/disabilityexams. The newly released DBQs follow the initial release of three DBQs for Agent Orange-related conditions.
Source: <http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2280> Accessed 1 Apr 2012.
<http://benefits.va.gov/TRANSFORMATION/disabilityexams/> Accessed 1 Apr 2012.
FOR MORE INFORMATION GO TO THE BLOGSITE
18 April 2012