As Veteran’s Day approaches, I’d like to acknowledge and thank our military men and women for their service to our country and our families. The commitment of these brave individuals is one for which we should all be grateful. As your state Senator, I will continue working to ensure that active members of the military as well as our veterans and their families receive the necessary opportunities in order to improve their lives upon returning home.
Legislation Supporting Veterans
There were several pieces of legislation relating to veterans which were enacted during the final days of the 2011-2012 legislative session that I proudly supported.
Act 176 (House Bill 2428) offers a special designation on Pennsylvania driver’s licenses or PennDOT identification cards for veterans who served in any branch of the United States Armed Forces. This includes reserve units, the National Guard, and those who were discharged or released from such service under conditions other than dishonorable. The designation on their ID will grant veterans an easier time in proving their military status to access such things as benefits or for a discount offered to veterans at many stores throughout the state. There is no additional cost to the veteran for the special designation mark and PennDOT will begin to implement the program in 12 to 18 months.
Act 185 (Senate Bill 623), which I co-sponsored, will guarantee that Pennsylvania gives our veterans consideration for contracting opportunities with the state government. Under this act, our state will set annual goals for contracting with small businesses owned by veterans. The PA Department of General Services will also provide training to help veteran-owned businesses learn how to apply for state contracts. This will make veteran-owned businesses more aware of business opportunities that are available to them within the Commonwealth. Lists of veteran-owned businesses will also be created by the department to encourage participation with these businesses. This legislation is not only veteran-friendly, but will foster job creation and development within our Commonwealth.
Act 189 (Senate Bill 1255), which I co-sponsored, creates the Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act (UMOVA) which simplifies and provides uniformity to the registration and absentee ballot process for military voters and overseas civilian voters for all elections within Pennsylvania. Additionally, this act permits those voters to provide their county election board with their email address so they can communicate electronically for voting purposes.
Act 194 (Senate Bill 1531), which I co-sponsored, creates the Pennsylvania Veterans Trust Fund to supplement state appropriations for veterans programs and support new partnerships with charities and veterans’ service organizations. A voluntary check-off mechanism on driver’s license renewals and vehicle registrations is created under this act so motorists can donate to the fund. Furthermore, this act creates a new “Honoring our Veterans” registration plate for both veterans and motorists who wish to honor veterans. This fund will enhance programs, services and benefits for Pennsylvania’s one million veterans.
Veterans Benefits and Services in Pennsylvania
There are a wide range of benefits and services available to qualified veterans and their families offered through the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
Some of the programs offered by the DMVA include the following:
Disabled Veterans’ Real Estate Tax Exemption—This program provides a real estate tax exemption for any honorably discharged veteran who is 100% disabled, a resident of the Commonwealth and has a financial need.
Veterans Emergency Assistance—This program provides temporary financial aid in an emergency to veterans and their beneficiaries who reside in Pennsylvania for the necessities of life (food, shelter, fuel, clothing and medical expenses).
Educational Gratuity Program—This program provides financial assistance to children of honorably discharged veterans who have service-connected disabilities and served during a period of war or armed conflict or children of veterans who die or died in service during a period of war or armed conflict.
For more details on these and other programs available, please go to www.dmva.state.pa.us/.
Contracting Opportunities for Veteran-Owned Small Businesses
There was recently an expansion of the Small Diverse Business Program – formerly the Small Disadvantaged Business Program—to include small veteran-owned businesses. The Small Diverse Business Program encourages and ensures open and equitable contracting practices are used by prime contractors in soliciting and contracting with small diverse businesses, and will now afford small veteran-owned businesses the same opportunities as their small minority- and women-owned counterparts.
According to the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the Department of Labor and Industry, many servicemen and women returning from duty start their own businesses. By including small veteran-owned businesses in the Small Diverse Business Program, the state can now directly assist these businesses on the path to success by encouraging prime contractors to identify, solicit and subcontract with them, thus increasing their opportunities to participate in state contracting.
For information on the Small Diverse Business Program, interested parties may contact the Department of General Services’ Bureau of Small Business Opportunities at 717-783-3119.
Senator Wayne D. Fontana
42nd Senatorial District