If you know a veteran, please forward this issue to him or her as it provides important updates, resources, and information.
In this Update:
VA Now Working with 1,000+ Community-based Coalitions to End Veteran Suicide
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced it is now working with more than 1,000 local community coalitions engaged in ending veteran suicide. These coalitions, established through the VA’s Public Health Model for Suicide Prevention, now reach more than 7.5 million veterans nationwide.
By combining community coalitions with clinical intervention strategies, these coalitions seek to help reduce the risk of suicide by providing veterans with tailored resources and direct support in the communities where they work and live.
According to the VA, preventing veteran suicide is the agency’s top clinical priority. In September, the VA released the 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, which showed veteran suicides decreased from 2019 to 2020, and fewer veterans died by suicide in 2020 than in any year since 2006.
Local communities can learn more about how to establish coalitions by visiting the Community Based Interventions for Suicide Prevention Overview and emailing VHASPPCBISP@va.gov.
The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) offers several resources to support community partners connecting veterans in crisis to the best possible resources to help them live a safe, healthy, quality life.
If you are a veteran in crisis or concerned about one, contact the Veterans Crisis Line to receive 24/7 confidential support. You don’t have to be enrolled in VA benefits or health care to connect. To reach responders, dial 988 then press 1, chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat, or text 838255.
Honoring Lives Lost on Memorial Day
While recognizing the men and women who gave their lives serving our nation is always a solemn occasion, I enjoyed visiting with veterans and their families at the Lancaster County Vet Center Memorial Day Picnic. The freedoms we cherish have been purchased at a very high price. We must always remember that freedom never had a greater friend than the American soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, and Coast Guardsman.
My Condolences to the Family of Veteran Harry West
I enjoyed visiting with Alma West and her family to recognize the rich legacy of her late husband, Harry West. Mr. West of Lancaster passed away in March, one month shy of his 100th birthday.
He worked as a farmhand in rural Vermont before serving our country with honor and distinction as a member of the United States Army Air Corps during World War II. Following his military service, Mr. West attended the University of Vermont, graduated from Eastern Nazarene College, received dual master’s degrees from Boston University, and completed doctoral work at New York University.
Mr. West developed and provided training and vocational services for incarcerated men and women. He also worked as a counselor and developer of rehabilitation training programs and facilities for people with physical, emotional, and intellectual disabilities for the New Jersey Department of Vocational Rehabilitation.
Thanks to Sgt. Eric Schmitt for 33 Years of Service
Congratulations to Sgt. Eric Schmitt upon his retirement from the Ephrata Police Department, concluding 33 years of dedicated service spent protecting the safety and welfare of his fellow citizens.
Sgt. Schmitt also served this country with honor and distinction as a member of the United States Army for three years and the Pennsylvania National Guard, 28th Military Police Company, for five years.
Congratulations and best wishes to Sgt. Schmitt!
Recognizing the Ultimate Sacrifice of Our Soldiers
I am grateful that my children, Jack and June, are old enough to join me for Memorial Day events. It is important to me that they learn at an early age the great sacrifices made by our military members and their families as they give their lives in service to this nation.
Jack is my parade buddy. Some say he has the best candy tossing arm this side of the Mississippi.
June often joins me for speaking engagements, sometimes serving as my official photographer. She joined me for the Memorial Day service at Woodcrest Villa in East Hempfield, where I was the keynote speaker. My thanks to all those who attended this special event to honor our nation’s fallen soldiers and celebrate the freedom for which they fought.
An End to the COVID Public Health Emergency
While it took far too long for our government health officials to recognize the need to end their imposed COVID health emergency, the end was finally announced last month.
For those who use the VA health care system, there will be some changes which the VA recently highlighted on its website.
Here is an overview of how the end of the public health emergency will impact VA care and services:
If you are concerned about the expiration of any of these authorities, the VA encourages you to reach out to your local VA medical center, call 800-698-2411, or go to the VA’s Contact Us webpage.
VA Changing Policy Regarding Health Assessments for Transitioning Service Members Filing a VA Disability Claim
Service members are required to meet Department of Defense (DoD) statutory and policy requirements for a separation health assessment before they transition from active-duty service to ensure the service member’s health care needs are addressed before separating.
However, the VA also requires a similar separation examination for those filing disability claims through the Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) program or the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES), to evaluate the claimed conditions and make a rating determination.
It’s no surprise most see these two exams as redundant.
In response to that, the VA and DoD have been engaged in a multi-year effort focused on developing a single comprehensive exam form to eventually be used by both agencies. That work is now done, and according to the two agencies, regardless of which agency conducts the exam, the other will now be able to use the same exam form for all the reasons previously stated.
The VA began using a new Separation Health Assessment Disability Benefit Questionnaire (Parts A and B) on May 1. The DoD is expected to begin using the common form (to include a “DoD Use Only” Part C) later this year.
The new separation health assessment is intended to meet the needs of both agencies while minimizing redundant examinations, streamlining the process, and encouraging service members to enroll or participate in additional transition services when warranted.
The Pennsylvania Veterans’ Memorial
Though the Memorial Day 2023 holiday has come and gone, honoring those who have served our country isn’t a one-day thing.
The Pennsylvania Veterans’ Memorial, located at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Annville, Lebanon County, stands in lasting tribute to those who served our state and nation in times of war and peace. This monument is nationally recognized as the largest veteran’s memorial located in any of the national cemeteries.
One way to honor those who served is through donations to the Pennsylvania Veterans’ Memorial Trust Fund. 100% of donations go toward the upkeep of the memorial, including landscaping, lighting, and fountains, as well as needed maintenance for structural and cosmetic components throughout the memorial.
The memorial, which was closed in October 2022 for $3.6 million in structural repairs necessitated by 20 years of exposure to the elements, is expected to reopen to the public later this year.
Donations, which are tax-deductible, can be made to the Pennsylvania Veterans’ Memorial Trust Fund online at www.donate.dmva.pa.gov or by sending a check made payable to the “Pennsylvania Veterans’ Memorial Trust Fund” and mailed to: DMVA Office for Veterans Affairs, Bldg. 9-26, Fort Indiantown Gap, Annville, PA 17003-5002. Donations can be made “In Honor Of,” “In Memory Of” or “On Behalf Of.”
Anyone interested in supporting additional veteran’s causes can visit www.donate.dmva.pa.gov to consider contributing to the Veterans’ Trust Fund, the Military Family Relief Assistance Program, or any of the six Veterans Homes Resident Welfare Funds.
New Online Resources Available Through the PA Veteran Farming Network
Late last month, the PA Veteran Farming Network unveiled its new website in conjunction with celebrating the 10th anniversary of the creation of the nonprofit organization.
PA Veteran Farming Network serves as Pennsylvania’s grassroots network of veterans, military, and their spouses who farm and operate agribusinesses. The organization provides individualized resource referral, connections to other veteran farmers and vetted service providers, convenes educational events, and promotes veteran agriculture.
The organization is led by a volunteer board of directors and leverages the power of its network and collaborators in the agriculture and veteran communities to aid with meeting the challenges of building strong and productive farms and agribusinesses.
Veteran-owned PA Brewers Collaborate to Make Beer Whose Sale Supports Veterans
For the fourth straight year, veteran-owned craft breweries from across Pennsylvania have joined to produce a special beer whose sale supports Pennsylvania veterans.
As the brewers – who have named their collaboration “Adapt and Overcome: Got Your Six” – have done previously, the special beer was released throughout Pennsylvania on Memorial Day weekend, with proceeds of sales going directly to the Keystone Military Families organization.
Since 2019, the PA Veterans’ Collaboration Beer has raised more than $60,000 dollars to support fellow Pennsylvania veterans.
Not only is the beer brewed by Pennsylvania veterans, but it also includes ingredients from Pennsylvania veteran-owned and operated businesses. To ensure the beer can be made available throughout the state, four regional brewers were used to produce the beer.
Read more about the beer, as well as where to find it, here.
What are Vet Centers?
VA vet centers provide free and confidential readjustment counseling for war-zone veterans and their families, from 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 Lancaster Vet Center, which is one of 12 vet centers in Pennsylvania and more than 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.
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.
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 Lancaster Vet Center, located at 1817 Olde Homestead Lane, Suite 207, Lancaster, PA 17601, can be contacted at 717-283-0735 or toll free 24/7 at 1-877-WAR-VETS (927-8387).
The other vet center locations in Pennsylvania are:
For more information, please visit www.vetcenter.va.gov.