Oct. 29, 2019

By Rep. Steve Mentzer (R-Lititz)
With Veterans Day around the corner, this is one of those special times of the year in which we contemplate all our veterans have done for this country and those of us who call America home.

In the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, we have worked diligently to honor those who have served our country with legislation designed to strengthen medical care; expand career opportunities; and improve program benefits for spouses and children of veterans who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Several new measures were signed into law earlier this year, including Act 32 of 2019, known as the Pennsylvania National Guard Military Family Education Program. It extends the current Pennsylvania National Guard Military Education Program by including a Guard member’s spouse or child in this benefit program. The benefit will be offered in exchange for a Guard member’s six-year reenlistment.

Under the law, the educational benefit can be used at any Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) institution or any institution of higher learning approved by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. If the approved institution costs less than the annual tuition rate charged by the state system schools, the student would not pay anything. If it costs more than PASSHE’s annual tuition rate, the student would only pay expenses in excess of PASSHE’s annual tuition rate.

Pennsylvania National Guard members are currently eligible for the benefit, and their family members may begin claiming the benefit on Aug. 1, 2020.

Another new law, Act 55 of 2019, specifies that the annual salary of deputy adjutant generals, and general officers in command positions permanently employed by the Commonwealth, is to be equivalent to the federal military base pay. In addition to specifying the eligibility requirements and conditions for the pay increase, it also determines how the cost of living adjustment is to be calculated.

The adoption of this law was important because the Pennsylvania adjutant general and uniformed deputy adjutant generals earn significantly less than their active duty counterparts even though they maintain the same military standards and comparable senior executive responsibilities.

Act 60 of 2019 authorizes the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to serve as a liaison for the Civil Air Patrol and provide support for this important program.

The Civil Air Patrol is the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force and has three core missions - aerospace education, cadet programs and emergency services (search and rescue, disaster relief, and counter-drug support). In Pennsylvania, it is comprised of 55 units whose volunteers work alongside state police, fire and other emergency service professionals to help or save the lives of others.

And finally, Pennsylvania’s Stolen Valor statute holds accountable individuals who wear a uniform or other indication of military membership, without the authority to do so. Under the law this is a summary offense. It also provides that an individual commits a misdemeanor if, with the intent to obtain certain benefits, he or she fraudulently holds himself or herself out as a member of the armed forces or as the recipient of any decoration or medal. Both charges subject individuals to paying a fine. Act 62 of 2019 requires “stolen valor” fines to be deposited into the Veterans’ Trust Fund, which issues grants to organizations that assist veterans. This is an appropriate way to make use of those fines for the benefit of veterans.

Each of the above laws garnered unanimous support in the House.

We cherish each man and woman who has stood up to serve this great country. These new laws are merely a continuation of our efforts to support our state’s veteran community.