Baker Bill Will Improve Veterans’ Outreach and Assistance

HARRISBURG – Senator Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, has introduced Senate Bill 915 to improve veterans’ outreach and assistance throughout Pennsylvania.

The legislation, co-sponsored by 50 senators, will provide financial assistance to the Veterans Administration accredited service officer programs offered by nationally chartered veteran service organizations including The American Legion, AMVETS, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, and the Disabled American Veterans. The program will be coordinated by the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to enhance the availability of veterans’ assistance throughout the state, to measure performance and program outcomes, and most importantly, ensure the continual improvement of services to Pennsylvania’s veterans’ community.

“Since August 1990, Pennsylvania has ranked fourth in the nation for the number of armed service members serving on active duty with at least one in four of today’s soldiers returning from combat seeking federal Veterans Administration compensation for service-connected injuries or illnesses,” Baker said. “Given the complexity of the federal claims process, our large veterans community, and the demonstrated success of similar efforts, the need for a more effective veterans outreach program here in Pennsylvania is great.”

SB 915 was drafted with input from many groups including the Pennsylvania Veterans’ War Council, State Veterans’ Commission, several nationally chartered veterans’ service organizations and officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Additionally, testimony was received at a joint hearing of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committees on June 12, 2007, chaired by Senator Baker and Representative Tony Melio (D-Bucks), respectively.

A review of benefit claims has shown that veterans who utilize the services of VA accredited veterans’ service organizations to file for federal benefits, on average, received a higher award of $11,122 when compared to individuals without representation whose claims averaged $4,413. Overall, these groups assist Pennsylvania’s veterans in filing over 64,000 federal claims per month and in recouping nearly $60 million in monthly VA awards including death penalty, pension, and dependency compensation.

Currently, 19 states support service officer programs through legislation and a state appropriation.

Baker noted, “SB 915 is a tremendous starting point for improving veterans’ outreach and services. In order to best meet the needs of our veterans community, we will continue our work to enhance and better coordinate the continuum of services across state, county, and independent programs, so that the men and women who have given so much to our country and Commonwealth, can receive the support they need to regain their mental, physical and economic health, to reconnect with themselves and their community and resume productive lives.”

 Contact: Brian Grove
(570) 675-3931

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