PITTSBURGH, July 23, 2019 – At the request of Senator Pam Iovino (D-Allegheny/Washington), the state Senate Democratic Policy Committee today held a public hearing on the coordination and delivery of veterans’ services in Pennsylvania.
“Those of us serving in the Senate – public servants ourselves – have an obligation to apply our service toward those who once served us,” Iovino said. “Our veterans deserve the very best support, and this hearing helped us understand how the Commonwealth can provide first-class service to the men and women who put on the uniform.”
A 23-year U.S. Navy veteran, Iovino has introduced legislation (Senate Resolution 170) that would establish a 21-member statewide task force to study the coordination and delivery of services for veterans and their families. That proposal has bipartisan support, with 16 Democratic and 10 Republican co-sponsors. The resolution was voted unanimously out of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness, which Iovino co-chairs, and is now being considered by the full Senate.
Under the Iovino resolution, the task force would examine:
- veterans’ service networks and collaborative organizations in Pennsylvania,
- current models for interorganizational communication within the veterans’ service community in Pennsylvania and other states;
- technology being used to collect, store and exchange data among the veterans’ service community in Pennsylvania and other states;
- national, state and local models that focus on comprehensive access, navigation and utilization of veterans’ services; and
- task force recommendations to better coordinate services among veterans’ service organizations.
Pennsylvania has approximately 819,000 veterans, which is the fourth largest veteran population in the United States.
Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh), who chairs the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, said, “Whether it is helping a veteran with housing or seeing to it that they have quality medical care, it is our responsibility to help as many of these women and men as possible.”
Discussing the state Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs new regional outreach effort, Maj. Gen. Eric Weller, who serves as deputy adjutant general, said, “This new regional outreach initiative will allow us to remove barriers for veterans, connect them to the services they need and have earned and minimize costs by better utilizing existing services.”
JulieHera DeStefano, director of the “Journey to Normal,” said her western Pennsylvania-based organization “has learned that the complexities of deployment and reintegration are profound and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for addressing them. If left unresolved, the grief can lead to risky behaviors, strained and broken relationships, depression, physical illness – all of which keep the veteran – and our perception of them – in a cycle of sickness.”
Pointing to the wide-ranging number of veterans’ services in Pennsylvania, Dr. Ben Stahl, who serves as executive director of the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania, added, “While the majority of veterans’ organizations are well intended and do meaningful work, a lack of oversight, cooperation and coordination has created a service landscape that is often difficult to navigate and lacks transparency and accountability.”
Stahl said nearly 60 percent of veterans in a recent survey said access to care and navigating available services and resources are their top challenges.
“If you do not go through the right door, you may not get the help you need,” Stahl noted. “For a veteran that is seeking critical assistance, this could be the difference between life and death. In Pennsylvania, there can be no wrong door for veterans.”
Col. Tom Stokes, who is retired from the U.S. Army, said, “We have 45,000 nonprofits across the country that serve veterans, hundreds of thousands of VA employees, and veterans’ service organizations, but we continue to have high veteran suicide rates. We need to go beyond thank you for your service and symbolic gestures. We all like care packages but what we really need is meaningful, sustained interpersonal connection, and a true understanding of our military culture.”
The following senators joined Iovino and Boscola at the hearing were: Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), John Blake (D-Lackawanna), Larry Farnese (D-Phila.), Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), Tim Kearney (D-Chester), Katie Muth (Berks/Chester/Montgomery), Christine Tartaglione (D-Phila.), Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks), Sharif Street (D-Phila.), and Lindsey Wagner (D-Allegheny).
Boscola said the hearing had the highest number of senators in attendance since she became the committee’s chair. The hearing was held at the Steamfitters Local Union #449 in Pittsburgh. The following also testified to the senate panel:
- Patti Gerhauser, Women Veterans Program Coordinator, Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania;
- Col. Thomas Stokes, CEO & Founder, Operation Strong Mind;
- David Roudabush, Outreach Coordinator, University of Pittsburgh Office of Veterans Services;
- Aryanna Berringer, Director, University of Pittsburgh Office of Veterans Services;
- Don Accamando, Director, office of Military and Veteran Students, Duquesne University;
- Former state Auditor General Jack Wagner, who currently serves as director of “Pittsburgh Hires Veterans.”
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