Thank you for subscribing to my E-newsletter. I am honored to serve the 36th Senatorial District and look forward to working with you toward building a stronger Pennsylvania. This E-newsletter serves to keep you updated on what is happening throughout Lancaster County and what I am doing as your State Senator in Harrisburg – I hope that you find it helpful! Should you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please DO NOT reply to this email; instead, please feel free to contact me here.
If you know a veteran, please forward this issue to him or her as it provides important updates, resources, and information.
In this Update:
Wishing You the Merriest of Christmases!
As this is the December edition of the Veterans Enews, I’d like to pass along my hope that you have a Merry Christmas filled with joy and blessings, as well as my wish that you have a happy and prosperous New Year.
Commemorating the Unknown Soldier at Woodcrest Villa
I stopped by Woodcrest Villa in East Hempfield to view its recently dedicated Never Forget Garden, created in commemoration of the centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. My thanks to Mennonite Home Communities President John Sauder and Korean War veteran Dr. Paul Cunningham for extending the invitation.
“To fallen soldiers let us sing,
Where no rockets fly or bullets wing
Our broken brothers let us bring
To the mansions of the Lord.
No more bleeding, no more fight
No prayers pleading through the night,
Just divine embrace, eternal light
To the mansions of the Lord.
Where no mothers cry and no children weep
We will stand our guard though the angels sleep
Through the ages let us keep
The mansions of the Lord.”
Text by Randall Wallace.
Wreaths Across America
Our veterans, from the Revolutionary War to present day conflicts, are devoted sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers. They come from all backgrounds in life to place their lives on the line for our freedoms.
Every single one deserves to be remembered.
That’s why each December since their start in 1992, on National Wreaths Across America Day (this year, that’s Dec. 17), the organization Wreaths Across America carries out its mission “To Remember, Honor and Teach” by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as at more than 3,400 additional locations in all 50 U.S. states, at sea, and abroad.
Across the country, parents and grandparents, aunts, and uncles use this day as a way to teach the children in their lives the solemnity in respect of those veterans that we should each show at their graves.
For more about this great organization and the work that it does, and, if you’re interested, how you can get involved, click here.
Operation Troop Appreciation
The holiday season can be tough, especially for our military overseas and our veterans back home.
Operation Troop Appreciation (OTA), since its creation in 2004, has provided support to hundreds of thousands of members of the military and our veteran communities through the generous donations of private individuals, small business partnerships, and corporate sponsors.
OTA is a Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation with a federal Section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status. All donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law. They work with military units to develop wish lists of items intended to help ease the burden of deployment and then collect those items and ship them to their military points of contact. OTA also sends letters to deployed units, expressing gratitude for their daily service and sacrifice. A committee of OTA volunteers continues to correspond with any soldier who wishes to keep in touch.
OTA is always in need of entertainment items, food, hygiene items, cleaning supplies, bedding, and other household items to help our deployed troops and returned veterans. These items can be mailed to their post office box: Operation Troop Appreciation, PO Box 18052, Pittsburgh, PA 15236. They also accept money donations that allow OTA to purchase requested items and provide assistance to veterans.
Additionally, OTA works with local churches, schools, civic groups, and individuals who wish to conduct collection drives for needed items. If you are interested in conducting a collection drive, or if you’d like to become an OTA volunteer, please contact OTA at info@OperationTroopAppreciation.org.
Rural Veteran Care
Every person is different. That’s why the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is working to provide through its Whole Health program personalized approaches that seek to address the full range of factors impacting veterans’ health, well-being, and overall quality of life.
As those who live in rural areas can attest, there are plenty of additional challenges to getting the health care one needs, such as higher poverty rates, travel limitations, and provider shortages.
The VA’s Office of Rural Health continues to work on various initiatives to enhance rural veterans’ wellness through stress reduction, nutrition, health coaching, mindfulness, and more. A couple examples offered by the VA include the Rural Veteran Wellness and Community Engagement Initiative, TeleYoga, and Telephone Lifestyle Coaching (TLC).
The Rural Veteran Wellness and Community Engagement Initiative seeks to leverage the benefits of community service to help rural veterans strengthen interpersonal connections, find a renewed sense of purpose, and enhance their overall quality of life. The initiative matches participants with local volunteer opportunities, helping improve mental and physical health.
TeleYoga provides rural veterans with virtual access to yoga techniques that have been shown to improve chronic pain, mental health, and quality of life – all things that can be challenges at times for many veterans. According to the VA, for many veterans, yoga’s greatest benefit is its comprehensive approach to improving daily life.
TLC focuses on connecting rural veterans with health coaches in one-on-one consultations. Those coaches help veterans set realistic goals to improve their overall health and well-being in such areas as managing weight, increasing activity, reducing stress, eating wisely, and limiting alcohol.
Meeting Lieutenant Michael Thornton at the Army-Navy Game
I was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend the Army-Navy game (and see an Army win in OT!) with my son Jack this year. It was an honor to introduce Jack to Lieutenant Michael Thornton, US Navy (Retired), who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in the Vietnam War. You can read more about Lt. Thornton’s heroic actions here or watch this ten-minute YouTube video about him here.
Training Available to Help Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and Their Families
As part of ongoing efforts to prevent suicide among service members, veterans, and their families, the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) is offering Military Cultural Competency Training, provided by Psych Armor at no cost, to community partners, providers, and others to support strategies related to their suicide prevention action plans.
Additional information about the training content can be found here along with registration and information on accessing the training portal. These 15 trainings will be available through the portal through December 2025. OMHSAS has the ability to train 300 people on a first come, first serve basis.
Please take advantage of these evidenced-based trainings available now, and work in partnership to provide services to our service members, veterans, and military families of our commonwealth.
Veterans Eligible for Free Lifetime Pass to National Parks and Other Public Lands
Last month on Veterans Day, the National Park Service unveiled a lifetime pass providing free entrance to national parks for veterans and their families.
The Interagency Military Lifetime Pass waives entrance fees for the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as standard amenity recreation fees for the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sites for current military service members and their dependents, veterans, and Gold Star families.
Veterans and their families have free access to approximately 2,000 public locations spread out across more than 400 million acres of public lands, which host activities to fit any lifestyle, from serene to high octane, including hiking, fishing, paddling, biking, hunting, stargazing, camping, and much more.
In recent years, veterans and Gold Star families were able to receive annual passes, but as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2022, the Military Pass has been expanded to include a pass that does not expire.
To obtain a lifetime pass when visiting one of the federal recreation sites, veterans can present one of the four forms of acceptable ID: Department of Defense ID Card, Veteran Health ID (VHIC), Veteran ID Card, or veteran’s designation on a state-issued U.S. driver’s license or ID card. The pass can also be obtained by clicking here. Gold Star Families can obtain information, self-certify that they qualify, and download a voucher by visiting the U.S. Geological Survey’s online store here.
Help Improve the VA Website
If you’re a user of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) website, the VA is asking for your input to help improve the website.
According to the VA, it’s easy to do and doesn’t require a huge time commitment – and the VA will even compensate you for your time to help them improve the website’s content, products, tools, and services.
Veterans, veteran caregivers, and family dependents – from every age group and demographic – are all eligible.
To sign up and help the VA improve its website, click 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.