About 995,000 veterans live in Pennsylvania, many of whom face homelessness, unemployment and traumatic disorders when they come home.
Senate Democrats introduced a package of bills last Tuesday intended to help veterans and their families make the transition from serving in the military.
The Saluting Pennsylvania Veterans plan consists of 23 bills and targets veteran education, housing and jobs.
Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa said they were surprised when they heard some of the issues vets face.
“The number of homeless veterans is something that’s significant,” Costa said. “We were not aware that the degree that it’s happened. Also, with the workforce and employment, those are also major concerns, as well, so the numbers are much higher than what we thought, and we have a lot of work to do to try and resolve those issues with the veterans as we move forward.”
Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) noted around 1,400 veterans are homeless on any given night.
The legislation aims to lower that number by providing $20 million for veterans’ housing projects and grants to homeless or imminently homeless veterans.
It would help with down payments or closing-costs for vets buying homes.
The bill would also provide for a pilot peer-to-peer counseling program for veterans who experience posttraumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or military sexual trauma.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about 11 to 20 percent of veterans from Iraqi and Afghanistan wars suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder.
“This just deals with the tip of the iceberg with the problems that our vets are going through, the fact that we’re trying to deal with homeless is a reality that comes out of mental health issues or lack of income to understand the fact that on any day 22 veterans are committing suicide all across this country,” Hughes said.
The legislation also aims to increase funding for Veterans’ Emergency Assistance Program, double education assistance and expand veterans’ eligibility in the disabled veterans tax exemption statute.
The democrats estimate the cost of the plan to be about $61.1 million.