HARRISBURG – With hundreds of soldiers and airmen now returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20) insisted that veterans’ services must keep pace with the growing demand, even in the face of revenue shortfalls.
“We know the budget is tight, but we cannot walk away from the promises made to our troops and their families,” Baker told The Adjutant General, Wesley Craig, at the annual budget hearing for the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) before the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Housing needs are especially critical, she said. “Our hearing earlier this month on homeless veterans showed the need for more emergency, transitional and permanent housing, especially in rural areas and the Marcellus Shale regions. More than a thousand veterans are now living on the streets or in shelters, or are hopping from home to home,” said Baker, who is Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.
She pressed for details about a new foundation designed to offer additional services to veterans through a combination of private and public funds.
Gen. Craig said that the newly created 501(c)3 organization, called the Pennsylvania Veterans Foundation, will work with local charities and outreach centers to provide services to veterans. Baker said the public-private partnership is an innovative way to maintain and expand service to needy veterans in these tough economic times, and should focus in particular on job training, screening for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), health care costs, transitional housing, and other proven needs.
She expressed concern that the Commonwealth’s popular Educational Assistance Program for National Guard members would be hurt by Corbett’s proposed cuts to higher education.
Baker also asked how the DMVA will expand services to underserved areas and meet the increasing demand for long-term health care services among an aging veteran population, especially in the Gino J. Merli Veterans Center in Scranton.
“We understand that budgets may have to be cut and layoffs may be needed, but it is critical to avoid laying off direct care workers in veterans’ homes,” Baker said. “Patient safety and quality of care are paramount to the obligation we owe to those who have sacrificed so much for this nation.”
Gen. Craig pledged that his department and staff will take care of the roughly 1,500 veterans in Gino Merli and the five other veterans’ homes throughout the state, and said the DMVA is already increasing capacity at the Southeast Veterans Center by 120 beds and tackling a 300-bed waiting list.
Baker’s fellow Appropriations Committee members also inquired about security upgrades at Fort Indiantown Gap, the need for interagency coordination in veterans’ employment assistance, the capacity of readiness centers, the sale of the Scotland School for Veterans Children in Franklin County, and the establishment of veterans’ courts in many counties.
Contact: Jennifer Wilson