HARRISBURG – As representatives from the Pennsylvania American Legion, Pennsylvania American Veterans, VFW, Pennsylvania Disabled American Veterans and other veterans organizations watched, Gov. Edward G. Rendell signed a bill into law to provide $450,000 for outreach and veteran service officer programs.
Senate Bill 915, which received no negative votes in the legislature, will establish a grant program for designated veterans’ service organizations to support veterans’ service officer programs and help more veterans.
“Pennsylvania’s 1.1 million veterans risked their lives to defend our freedoms,” Rendell said. “This worthwhile program is another good way in which we can help care for them and show our thanks.
Veterans’ service program officers help, counsel and represent veterans and their families as they work to get the healthcare and related benefits that are available to them. Without this service, the complex rules, laws and requirements that must be followed and met would make it extremely difficult for veterans to find these benefits on their own.
The adoption of SB 915 has been a priority for the American Legion, VFW, AMVETS and Disabled American Veterans. The measure amends Title 51, the Military and Veterans Code, by adding a new section on support for veterans’ service officer programs. Grant recipients must be members of the State Veterans’ Commission, which includes all the major veterans’ organizations in Pennsylvania and endorsed the bill.
“When I met with all our veterans’ organizations at the governor’s residence this past May, they briefed me on their plan to seek approval for this kind of grant program and I strongly encouraged them to pursue this initiative,” the governor said.
The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, which is charged with awarding grants to veterans’ service organizations, will determine the amount of the grants based on an organization’s spending plans and past performance.
Money must be used to improve the processing and distribution of services to the state’s veterans, including increasing outreach efforts; increase the number of claims filed and amounts of recovery; expand training opportunities for organizations and service officers; improve coordination with the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare system; and increase the number of veterans enrolled in the VA healthcare system.
“The men and women who fought to defend America overseas should not have to battle to receive the benefits they deserve now that they are home,” the governor said. “Fewer veterans will have to do that with the creation of this grant program.”
Rendell has long been a staunch supporter of Pennsylvania’s soldiers and veterans. Within the past two years, the governor has signed legislation to:
Place a referendum before voters in the November 2006 general election, which passed 61 percent to 39 percent, to provide a bonus to Gulf War veterans;
-Change the disabled veterans real estate tax exemption program so real estate tax assessments of a veteran and spouse who are earning less than $75,000 a year occur every five years instead of every two;
-Reduce the price of fishing and hunting licenses for soldiers who have returned home from deployment;
-Provide a $500 tax-free bonus to Pennsylvania U.S. Merchant Marine veterans who served during World War II;
-Increase the death benefits for survivors of soldiers killed during state active duty;
-Extend health care coverage for full-time students returning from duty; and
-Not deduct income tax for from the pay of state active duty soldiers for emergencies.