Senator Dush E-Newsletter

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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:

  • Updated VA Home Loan Benefits Help Veterans Remain Competitive in Housing Market
  • Understanding VA Survivors Benefits, Avoiding Scams
  • SAFE-Watch: A Suicide Prevention Safety Net
  • Partnership Renewal Seeks to Help with Suicide Prevention
  • Veterans: Be Prepared Before a Suicide Crisis Happens
  • Veterans Job Listing
  • Vet Centers

Updated VA Home Loan Benefits Help Veterans Remain Competitive in Housing Market

To ensure the VA’s home loan programs continue to promote access to homeownership for veterans, updates have been made to allow eligible veterans, active duty service members and surviving spouses to use their VA home loan benefits to pay for certain real estate buyer-broker fees when purchasing a home beginning Aug. 10, 2024.

The VA encourages veterans to negotiate buyer-broker fees with their real estate professional. Veterans can also still ask sellers to cover the buyer-broker fees at closing. In addition to other safeguards, all buyer-broker fees charged to veterans using the VA home loan benefit must be reasonable and customary within local markets.

The update to the use of VA home loan benefits was made in response to a settlement reached in March by the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) in a class-action lawsuit that requires NAR to change its brokerage fee rules. The changes to the real estate market by the settlement remains unknown, but there is an increased expectation that home buyers will pay for their own buyer-broker fees. In VA’s program, it has been common practice for sellers to pay for the veteran’s buyer-broker fees; without the changes made by the VA, veterans could have been at a disadvantage in the evolving homebuying market.

Understanding VA Survivors Benefits, Avoiding Scams

The passing of a veteran can be a difficult time for those left behind, which is why the VA offers help navigating through the challenges.

There are many VA benefits that may be available to a surviving spouse, dependent children and/or parents. Surviving family members may be eligible for such things as financial assistance, home loans, education assistance, VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) or survivor pension.

A full list of all survivors’ benefits can be found here.

Sadly, wherever there is money, scams follow, and survivors’ benefits are no different. Timely reporting of a veteran’s death to the VA helps family members avoid posthumous scams, which can cause additional financial and emotional stress during an already difficult time.

You can learn how to properly report the death of a veteran to the VA here.

SAFE-Watch: A Suicide Prevention Safety Net

Veterans are at particularly high risk of suicide with a rate that is 1.5 times higher than that of the overall U.S. population.

In 2018, the VA implemented the Suicide Risk Identification Strategy to standardize suicide risk screening and evaluation across all facilities. VA providers must complete the Comprehensive Suicide Risk Screen Evaluation (CSRE) whenever a veteran reports acute signs of suicide risk. The CSRE assesses risk levels and shapes personalized risk management strategies.

For those veterans who still require completion of the CSRE, the Suicide Assessment Follow-up Evaluation – Watch (SAFE-Watch) was created to identify at-risk veterans so no one is overlooked. SAFE-Watch produces alerts and populates real-time reports for care providers. The alert notifies the facility’s suicide prevention team to complete their required assessments and safety measures. This has helped to substantially increase the rate of CSRE completion, with the VA Heartland Network reporting that after SAFE-Watch was implemented, the completion rate increased from 65% in 2021 to 90% in 2022.

The VA has expanded the use of SAFE-Watch to 28 VA facilities with another 11 adoptions in progress. You can learn more about SAFE-Watch here.

The VA has a variety of mental health resources, information, treatment options and more — all accessible to veterans, veterans’ supporters, and the public. You can find more information here.

Partnership Renewal Seeks to Help with Suicide Prevention

The VA recently announced the nonmonetary partnership renewal with the Expiration Term of Service Sponsorship Program (ETS-SP), with the goal of suicide prevention.

The partnership, facilitated by the VA’s National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships (HAP), addresses social determinants of health (SDOH) that influence mental health resilience and improved health outcomes. The collaboration between the VA and ETS-SP and ETS-SP’s military transition program, Onward Ops, enhances support for service members and veterans as they reintegrate into civilian life and communities, proactively reducing suicide risks while supporting the health and well-being of veterans and their families.

Additionally, ETS-SP and its Onward Ops program are expanding their outreach efforts beyond just those in the Army or Army veterans. While Onward Ops resources have always been available to all branches of service, they are expanding their outreach efforts to other branches of service to increase awareness of the program’s resources.

Onward Ops has also enhanced its veteran support, including the introduction of a suicide risk calculator, representing a significant advancement in efforts to identify and support at-risk veterans.

For veterans at acutely high risk, Onward Ops can quickly and easily refer them to the Veterans Crisis Line and VA mental health providers.

The VA’s Transition Assistance Program offers additional information, resources and tools to help service members, families and caregivers transition successfully to civilian life.

Veterans: Be Prepared Before a Suicide Crisis Happens

If there’s one thing you learn in the military, it’s the value of preparation. When you are prepared to face what lies ahead, your chances of success increase.

That same reasoning should be applied to a potential suicide crisis.

Now, not every veteran will face a crisis. And not every veteran who faces a crisis will have thoughts of suicide. But if you or a veteran you care about is going through a tough time, you can be ready in case a crisis happens.

Suicide is preventable, and it’s important to think ahead and understand the resources available to help you. Veterans have access to lifesaving support that can be invaluable before a crisis happens.

Resources available to help lower the risk for suicide include such things as the Veterans Crisis Line; the Keep It Secure program, that helps to ensure firearms and medications are securely and safely stored; the Safety Plan app, which helps an individual identify personal coping strategies and sources of support; and a veteran self-help portal with tools to help veterans work on problem-solving, managing their anger, develop parental skills and more; evidence-based mental health therapy; parenting resources; employment assistance; and housing and financial services.

There are people who want to help and resources ready to support you.

Veterans Job Listing

Every week, the Pennsylvania Nation Guard Associations updates its free job board with good openings for National Guard members, veterans and their families across Pennsylvania and in nearby states. The board features nearly 10,000 employment and internship postings.

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:

  • Served on active military duty in any combat theater or area of hostility.
  • Experienced military sexual trauma (regardless of gender or service era.)
  • Provided mortuary services or direct emergent medical care to treat the casualties of war while serving on active military duty.
  • Performed as a member of an unmanned aerial vehicle crew that provided direct support to operations in a combat theater or area of hostility.
  • Accessed care at a Vet Center prior to Jan. 2, 2013 as a Vietnam-Era Veteran.
  • Served on active military duty in response to a national emergency or major disaster declared by the president, or under orders of the governor or chief executive of a state in response to a disaster or civil disorder in that state.
  • Are a current or former member of the Coast Guard who participated in a drug interdiction operation, regardless of the location.

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:

  • Bucks County Vet Center, 2 Canals End Road, Suite 201B, Bristol, PA 19007, 215-823-4590
  • Erie Vet Center, 240 West 11th Street, Suite 105, Erie, PA 16501, 814-453-7955
  • Harrisburg Vet Center, 1500 N. Second Street, Harrisburg, PA 17102, 717-782-3954
  • Lancaster Vet Center, 1817 Olde Homestead Lane, Suite 207, Lancaster, PA 17601, 717-283-0735
  • Norristown Vet Center, 320 East Johnson Highway, Suite 201, Norristown, PA 19401, 215-823-5245
  • City Center Philadelphia Vet Center, 801 Arch Street, Suite 502, Philadelphia, PA 19107, 215-627-0238
  • Northeast Philadelphia Vet Center, 101 East Olney Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19120, 215-924-4670
  • Pittsburgh Vet Center, 2500 Baldwick Road, Suite 15, Pittsburgh, PA 15205, 412-920-1765
  • Scranton Vet Center, 1002 Pittston Avenue, Scranton, PA 18505, 570-344-2676
  • White Oak Vet Center, 2001 Lincoln Way, Suite 280, White Oak, PA 15131, 412-678-7704
  • Williamsport Vet Center, 49 East Fourth Street, Suite 104, Williamsport, PA 17701, 570-327-5281

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