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Pa. works to help veterans deal with several challenges

Written by Tim Lambert and Radio Pennsylvania | Apr 2, 2015 4:16 AM
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Photo by Scott Detrow/WITF

(Harrisburg) -- The state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs is looking for ways to better connect vets to resources.

At the agency's Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearing, lawmakers heard about some of the challenges former military members face once they leave the service.
Veterans may need housing, jobs or mental health services.

Acting Deputy Adjutant General for the Pennsylvania Army National Guard Colonel Marc Ferraro says mental health issues are a major focus, noting  every National Guard unit must have someone trained to identify symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

He notes if a veteran is struggling with suicidal thoughts, every National Guard unit has a suicide awareness officer.

"They get trained in specifics on identifying signs that somebody could possibly suicidal, have ideations and tendencies," he says.

Deputy Adjutant General for Veterans Affairs Jerry Beck says the state needs to develop a database of veterans to better connect them with resources.

"Many times I get calls (from) people looking for veterans to fill positions and I don't have names to give them to fill those positions," he says. "I think as we keep going and improving our outreach, we can help to set up more of a linkage, so that when we get those kinds of calls, we can assist them."

Beck says the agency is working on an online system that would enable vets to sign up and put their resumes online.

Acting Adutant General of the Pennsylvania National Guard Major General James Joseph says the department has several people dedicated to working with soldiers coming off active duty to help them find civilian jobs.

"In the last year-and-a-half, we've been able to get about 400 service members jobs, because of those several people that we have on staff to do that," he says.

Joseph says if the federal goverment allows the commonealth access to VA database, the state could locate veterans and speed up services to help them.

The agency is also working with several groups to fight homelessness among vets.

The Operation Boot Camp program in Philadelphia has housed 879 veterans over the last year, while in Pittsburgh, it's housed 251 over the last 100 days.

*This story has been edited to better reflect the difference in treatment for PTSD and veterans with suicidal thoughts*

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