If you know a veteran, please forward this issue to them (you can sign up for my mission reports here). There are some important updates, resources and information they can use.
In this Update:
Veterans Memorial Taking Shape at Grange Park in Centre County
A local family is working to establish a memorial at the Centre County Grange Park to honor Centre County veterans, including those missing in action and prisoners of war.
The POW/MIA Veteran Tribute area will be situated near gate four at the Grange Fairgrounds, accessible via Route 45, at the entrance adjacent to the road leading to the equestrian arena. The entire project is set to be dedicated in 2024; however, the flagpole and flag were already erected during this year’s Grange Fair.
Deb Burger, co-owner of Hairworks in State College and the Bellefonte Borough tax collector/treasurer, is leading the project alongside four of her siblings, their spouses and their families.
Many of Burger’s relatives are veterans, but the memorial hold particular significance because of her oldest brother, Major Lewis P. Smith II of Bellefonte, who remains missing in action after his plane was shot down on May 30, 1968, in Laos while he was serving in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War.
Those interested in contributing can complete a donation form and make checks payable to Centre County Grange Encampment, with POW/MIA Veteran Tribute in the memo line. Donations can be sent to P.O. Box 271, Centre Hall, PA 16828-0271. You can read more about the memorial here in a story published on StateCollege.com.
VA Celebrates 50 Years of the National Cemetery Administration
The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) in September celebrated 50 years of the National Cemetery Administration (NCA).
Since 1973, NCA has ensured that veterans, service members and their families are honored with a final resting place that pays tribute to their service. Nearly 5.3 million people — including 4 million veterans from the Revolutionary War to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — are buried in VA national cemeteries.
The VA commemorated NCA’s 50th anniversary with a ceremony at the newly-renamed National Memorial Cemetery at Quantico. At the ceremony, NCA unveiled the new name of the cemetery, the National Memorial Cemetery at Quantico, which better reflects the availability of the cemetery to all veterans and their family members — not just those who served at Marine Corps Base Quantico.
You can read more about the NCA here.
We Never Forget Our MIA’s
We welcomed home one of our soldiers listed as Missing In Action this past month. Sergeant Richard M. Sharrow was listed as missing in action July 25, 1950, shortly after the Korean War began.
After his unit took a wrong turn and ran into a fortified North Korean unit, a battle ensued where Sgt. Sharrow and many of his brothers-in-arms were killed.
His, and others, remains remained behind North Korean lines until President Donald Trump negotiated the repatriation of their remains. It has taken years to properly identify these men through DNA that family members, like Sgt Sharrow’s sister and niece, provided.
The Patriot Riders from all over Western Pennsylvania provided two special escorts; one from the Pittsburgh International airport to the initial funeral home in Summerville, PA, and another from Summerville to the funeral services in Marienville.
I had the opportunity to join the family members on the bus for the first leg and learned a lot about his service and was able to see some of his letters home, one just days before he was lost. The importance of his great nieces and nephew being able to see and learn from a bunch of grizzled vets of the importance of never forgetting and honoring our fallen struck me.
On both legs of Sgt Sharrow’s final journey it was heartwarming to see the people along side the road giving him his final, and proper, welcome home. On the final leg, we saw well over a thousand people, including one Korean War vet who just simply stood out.
My thanks to all who helped honor Sgt. Sharrow. It is my hope that all of our MIA finally get to return to their families and are similarly accorded the thanks they deserve.
VA Expands Burial Benefits for Veterans and Their Families
Veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors now have access to expanded burial benefits to help with end-of-life expenses related to a veteran’s gravesite, burial, funeral and transportation of remains to their final resting place.
Burial benefits are available to individuals who pay for a veteran’s burial and funeral costs that are not reimbursed by any other organization. The updated burial benefits are:
The VA provides burial benefits for all legal burial types, including cremation, burial at sea and donation of remains to a medical school. Eligible individuals include a surviving spouse or legal partner, surviving child, parent or executor of the veteran’s estate. Additionally, the VA may pay burial benefits to a funeral home or third party who handled burial arrangements for a veteran whose remains are unclaimed.
You can learn more about burial benefits and find additional information regarding flags, headstones and markers here.
My Recommended Read for Veterans in the Month of October
Almost A Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence
Perhaps General George Washington himself said it best when he summarized that our nation’s victory in the American Revolution was just a “little short of a standing miracle.”
From the book:
In Almost A Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence, award-winning Revolutionary War historian John Ferling “offers an illuminating portrait of America’s triumph, offering vivid descriptions of all the major engagements, from the first shots fired on Lexington Green to the surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown, revealing how these battles often hinged on intangibles such as leadership under fire, heroism, good fortune, blunders, tenacity, and surprise.
“Ferling paints sharp-eyed portraits of the key figures in the war, including General Washington and other American officers and civilian leaders…
“The book also examines the many faceless men who soldiered, often for years on end, braving untold dangers and enduring abounding miseries. The author explains why they served and sacrificed, and sees them as the forgotten heroes who won American independence.”
Ferling expertly proves that America came much closer to experiencing the “agony of defeat” than what is now casually remembered.
PACT Act Benefits and Eligibility Conversation
In case you missed it, the VA recently joined Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) live on Facebook to discuss PACT Act benefits eligibility, who is impacted and what veterans need to do now.
You can watch the full conversation here.
What are Vet Centers?
I’ve been asked this question by several of my fellow vets and feel it’s important to provide an answer to those who haven’t reached out yet.
VA Vet Centers provide free and confidential readjustment counseling for War-Zone Veterans and their families, 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 DuBois Vet Center, which is one of 12 Vet Centers in Pennsylvania and over 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. The Dubois Vet Center’ website is designed to provide veterans, family members, and community partners the ability to see what services the center offers, as well as the center’s Community Access Points with a picture of the entrance so first time visitors have a frame of reference to help guide them in.
From my time in the State House through my current position, I’ve had a strong relationship with the Dubois Vet Center. They have helped me help many of my fellow vets.
Two Recreational Therapy Groups Available at the Dubois Vet Center
As part of a national competition, the DuBois Vet Center was approved for initial funding for two recreational therapy groups.
One of the groups is an introduction to fly tying for fly fishing, with one of the center’s counselors being an avid fly tyer and fisherman. The other group is a no sew blanket group, which the center hopes will generate interest from women veterans, but the group is open to anyone who would like to join.
The groups will be held at the Vet Center with approximately 4 cohorts to run quarterly with 6 vets in each cohort. The center says it hopes to grow these groups and potentially be able to have them at the center’s Community Access Points (CAPs) in McKean, Centre and Blair counties, with the possibility of adding more recreational therapy groups in the future.
The center noted the initial funding will help them launch the groups, but they will be actively trying to obtain additional funding they can expand on them.
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:
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. From personal experience I can tell you that, if the center can’t help you, they’ll find someone who will.
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 DuBois Vet Center, located at 100 Meadow Lane, Suite 8, DuBois, PA 15801, can be contacted at 814-372-2095 or toll free 24/7 at 1-877-WAR-VETS (927-8387).
The DuBois Vet Center recently announced counseling and referral services are now being provided at the State College American Legion Post 245, in addition to the many services they offer at their locations in DuBois, Altoona, Bradford, Penn State-DuBois, Smethport and their mobile Vet Center.
The other Vet Center locations in Pennsylvania are:
For more information, please visit www.vetcenter.va.gov
For anyone who hasn’t already signed up to receive my mission reports, you can get on the e-newsletter mailing list here.