HARRISBURG – State Rep. Steve Barrar (R-Chester/Delaware) hosted a discussion with other members of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness committees about policy issues affecting veterans with students from the United States Army War College in Carlisle this week.
As part of the war college’s six-month advanced strategic arts program that focuses on patterns of conflict and their application to military strategic planning in support of national security objectives, select students joined the legislators at the Capitol.
“I was impressed with the students, and the conversation that they generated. Currently ranking as lieutenant colonels or colonels, they are the future general officers and senior commanders of our military. It was a sincere privilege for our committee to be a part of their program,” Barrar, majority chairman of the Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, said.
Students asked about the methods the committees employ to garner maximum fiscal support when requesting funding from the federal government following a state emergency as well as how the local, state and federal responsibility is balanced.
Reps. Mark Gillen (R-Berks/Lancaster), Barry Jozwiak (R-Berks), Rick Saccone (R-Allegheny/Washington) and Will Tallman (R-Adams/Cumberland) as well as Sens. Jay Costa (D-43) and Scott Hutchinson (R-21) answered questions from the students about how the committees identify ways to best serve veterans within the given financial limitations.
Much of the conversation was dedicated to the top concern for veterans as they end their service and re-enter society. Committee members shared that more emphasis must be placed on helping the veterans integrate back into their families, communities and the workforce. Not having the income and accomplishment that a job provides can allow mental health issues to take hold that veterans work hard to avoid.
“When our veterans come home, they need to know that there are jobs available for them and that they will be able to communicate how desirable the skills and characteristics they learned in the military truly are to potential employers,” Barrar said. “Knowing that they have a purpose – getting up each day to fulfill a need in the community – has such a powerful, positive influence on our veterans.”
Committee members shared that a top concern is balancing the needs of many groups of Pennsylvanians, including veterans. Especially given the current budget situation, they focus on cost-effective ways to serve the military. For example, Gillen authored legislation that has a miniscule financial impact for the Commonwealth but a great benefit for those who serve. Act 59 of 2014 notes “M” on college transcripts for members of the military who did not finish a course because they were deployed. Previously, the transcript was marked with “W” for withdraw, no different than any other college student who received an incomplete.
“While narrower finances and greater needs present challenges for us, members of the committee and I are passionate about making the Commonwealth a better place for our veterans,” Barrar said. “It was a pleasure to talk to some of them about the issues that are most important to them; our conversation will guide us as we focus our efforts on how best to serve the veteran community in the future.”