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:
Pittsburgh-Area Veteran Town Hall About the PACT Act
The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) will hold an in-person Veteran Town Hall on the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act on April 4, 2023, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the West View VFW Post 2754, 386 Perry Highway, Pittsburgh, PA 15229.
The town hall will also be available by phone to increase accessibility for Pennsylvania’s more than 700,000 veterans.
The new federal PACT Act law expands Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange and other toxic substances. The town hall will provide veterans and their advocates with a convenient platform to learn and ask questions about eligibility and applying for benefits related to the PACT Act.
In-person attendees are also invited to arrive early to enjoy a dedicated resource fair from 5-6 p.m.
Featured presenters for this event will be Chip Gilliland, DMVA’s chief of the Division of Reintegration and Outreach, and Jennifer Vandermolen, director of the Pittsburgh VA Regional Office.
In-person town hall attendees are asked to register prior to the event by calling 717-644-3890. Anyone joining the town hall by phone should call 267-332-8737 and enter Conference ID: 989503340# to participate. Both in-person attendees and callers will be able to ask questions during the town hall.
VA Relaxes Masking Requirements in Medical Facilities
The VA announced recently that it has relaxed the masking requirement at VA medical facilities.
According to the VA, moving forward it will base its masking guidelines on the VHA COVID-19 Health Protection Levels (low, medium, and high) and healthcare facilities’ conditions.
When health protection levels are high, masking will remain required. However, when health protection levels are low or medium, medical center leadership will conduct a facility risk assessment to determine if it is appropriate for masking to be optional in certain areas at their facility.
Previously, masking had been required at all times in VA medical facilities, regardless of health protection levels.
The VA notes that regardless of health protection level or healthcare facility conditions, masking will still be required in high-risk areas such as chemotherapy units, acute inpatient medical/surgical units, intensive care units, post-transplant units, dialysis units, etc. Masking will also be required at all times for individuals with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 or other viral respiratory infections.
Resources for Understanding Military Benefits and Tax Filing
Members of the military or veterans may find these resources on taxes and their benefits helpful this tax season.
For Pennsylvania state taxes, this U.S. Army site provides information on such things as:
For federal taxes, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides information on how veterans can maximize their tax benefits. It covers what’s taxable and what’s not and includes the AARP Foundation’s Tax-Aide program, which offers free tax help to anyone, with a focus on taxpayers who are 50 and older and have low to moderate incomes.
The Veterans Benefits Guide
The Veterans Benefit Administration has coordinated with Stars and Stripes – the U.S. military’s independent news organization – to release the 16-page Veterans Benefits Guide, which highlights VA benefits and services available for veterans, service members and their families.
Included within the publication you will find information about financial assistance, career planning and guidance, home loan assistance and answers some of the most commonly asked questions on a variety of benefits and services, such as compensation, life insurance, pension and fiduciary services, education and training programs, economic development and employment, home loan guaranty programs and housing assistance, and mental health resources.
The guide also includes links to helpful resources, such as program eligibility information, yearly benefit program reports, application directions, VBA contact information and much more.
Modernizing VA Benefits Delivery
To help veterans apply for and receive VA benefits more efficiently, VA’s Office of Information and Technology (OIT), Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and Debt Management Center (DMC) have been working to create innovative technology solutions.
Together, OIT and VBA are modernizing VA systems to help provide a better benefits delivery experience—for both veterans seeking benefits and VA staff administering them.
The modernizations efforts have thus far included:
Life Insurance Coverage Increases for Service Members and Veterans
As of March 1, service members and qualifying veterans have access to increased life insurance coverage of up to $500,000 under two programs: Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) and Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI).
This increase moves life insurance coverage more in line with the current cost-of-living.
SGLI provides low-cost, group-term, life insurance coverage to eligible service members. All active duty, guard and reserve service members eligible for SGLI will automatically receive the increased coverage, including those who previously declined coverage or elected a lesser amount.
VGLI provides life insurance coverage to eligible Veterans after they separate from service. Current VGLI members will not have their coverage increased automatically. Eligible veterans who currently have $400,000 of coverage under VGLI can elect to purchase additional coverage in $25,000 increments. This added coverage will be available without medical underwriting during specified coverage periods. The Office of Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (OSGLI) will send eligible VGLI members information about obtaining coverage.
The VA Will Pay for Some to Get New Alzheimer’s Drug
The drug would be used for veterans in the disease’s early stages, making the department the first and largest health program in the country to endorse the treatment. The VA treats roughly 168,000 veterans with Alzheimer’s, a portion of whom are in the early stages of the illness. And according to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 451,000 veterans were living with Alzheimer’s and over 130,000 new cases were diagnosed in 2022.
Patients who want to take the medication would have to request it, receive prior approval and meet stringent inclusion criteria, including such things as being over 65, showing early-stage symptoms of the disease and having elevated levels of brain amyloid, often referred to as “sticky protein fragments” in the brain. Leqembi has been shown to remove sticky protein fragments, thereby slowing progression of early-stage disease in patients.
Veterans seeking more information about Leqembi and possible VA coverage can use this tool to get in touch with their local VA office, or call the VA’s health benefits hotline at 877-222-8387 any weekday between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.
VA’s Caregiver Support Program: Get Paid to Care for Your Veteran
The Caregiver Support Program (CSP) recognizes and supports the efforts of caregivers who look after and take care of our nation’s veterans who need support.
The mission of CSP is to promote the health and well-being of caregivers who care for those who served, focusing on improving the quality of life for caregivers.
Every VA facility has a CSP team that provides support and referrals to services for caregivers. They provide valuable information about resources to help caregivers stay informed and supported. You can find a local CSP team using the locator tool.
The CSP has two different support programs: the Program of General Caregiver Support Services (PGCSS) and the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC).
PGCSS seeks to empower caregivers by offering resources that sharpen their caregiving skills and services that support their personal growth, health and well-being – you can learn more about PGCSS resources and how to enroll here. All veteran caregivers are encouraged to enroll in PGCSS in order to receive education and support, such as skills training, mobile support, one on one coaching, group support and respite.
PCAFC offers enhanced clinical support to Family Caregivers of eligible Veterans who have a serious injury (including a serious illness) and require in-person personal care services, among other requirements – you can learn more about applying for PCAFC here. Family Caregivers eligible for PCAFC may also have access to specific mental health resources, enhanced respite benefits, beneficiary travel and a monthly stipend.
Both programs serve to identify the unique needs of each caregiver by linking them to the services that best meet their individual needs and promote their health and well-being.
Pennsylvania State Veterans Commission Meeting on April 14
The next meeting of the Pennsylvania State Veterans Commission will be held on Friday, April 14 at 10 a.m. at the Arrowheads Community Club, located at Building 9-65 Fort Indiantown Gap, Annville, PA 17003.
All presentation materials are posted on the commission’s web page prior to the official meeting, and open to the public to review.
People can attend in person at Arrowheads Community Club or they can dial in (audio only) at 267-332-8737, 367527306#. When prompted, enter phone conference ID: 367 527 306#. The commission asks that you mute your phone if dialing into the meeting.
My Recommended Read for Veterans in the Month of April: Unbroken, A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption
If you’re looking for a captivating World War II military hero story filled with survival, resilience, redemption, and inspiration you’ve found it.
Based on the triumphant life of U.S. Olympian and Army Air Force Airman Louis Zamperini, who incredibly survived a crash into the Pacific Ocean in 1943 and traveled thousands of miles to rescue in a floundering life raft despite enemy aircraft, leaping sharks, thirst and starvation.
Now a major motion picture, Unbroken stands alone as an unforgettable testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit, brought vividly to life by Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand.
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.