Boosting funding for local veterans

Hometown Heros

Boosting funding for local veterans programs is a high priority for Franklin County Commissioners.

The Franklin County Commissioners have long valued the contributions and sacrifices veterans and military families. As a way of saying thanks, commissioners place an emphasis on enhancing the Franklin County Veterans Affairs office. The goal is to offer the best possible services and resources to the more than 13,000 county veterans.

Those efforts have paid off. Veterans received over $20.3 million in federal disability compensation and benefits in fiscal year 2022. That’s an increase of more than $16 million in just eight years; and it is attributable to the determined push by Franklin County Veterans Affairs staff to reach a larger number of veterans.

Growing county’s VA presence

With the commissioners’ support and under the leadership of director Justin Slep, the County Veterans Affairs department uses town hall forums, presentations, events like annual veterans expos and golf tournaments, and several new therapeutic programs to grow its presence in the community.

Slep also serves on a number of committees and boards both locally and at the state level. His efforts help increase visibility for his office.

All of those efforts have helped educate local veterans on the services and opportunities available to them. Each year, the number of individuals contacting the department grows; jumping from an estimated 500 veterans in 2014 to more than 4,500 in 2021.

As veterans become better informed through increased outreach efforts, more apply for services and benefits, like disability compensation and benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

VA benefits

VA disability compensation offers a monthly tax-free payment to veterans who became ill or were injured while serving in the military; as well as veterans whose service made an existing condition worse.

Individuals can also qualify for VA disability benefits for physical and mental health conditions that developed before, during or after service.

Franklin County veterans received about $4 million in federal funding in 2014 . That amount has spiked by more than $16 million in just eight years; thanks to outreach efforts by Franklin County’s Veterans Affairs.

“VA benefits and compensation can change veterans’ lives,” said Slep, who noted one local veteran recently received a retroactive award of more than $88,000. “Not only do monthly federal payments help veterans financially; but it also makes them eligible for any and all care related to their service-connected disabilities within the VA health care system.”

READ: Franklin County Veterans Food Distribution Program Sees Steady Growth

Benefits

Benefits aren’t just limited to those who served in the military. Surviving spouses and unmarried dependent children of wartime veterans could qualify for monthly payments through the VA Survivors Pension.

Similarly, VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation is available, based upon qualifications, to the survivor of a veteran who died from a service-related injury or illness or the surviving spouse, children or parents of a service member who died in the line of duty.

“Spouses and dependent children of veterans and service members may qualify for certain benefits like health care, life insurance or assistance to help pay for schooling,” added Slep. “Survivors of veterans and service members may also qualify for added benefits like help with burial costs and survivor compensation. Those caring for a veteran may be eligible for support to better care for the veteran or themselves.”

Above all, Franklin County Veterans Affairs works to provide the best possible service to veterans and military families.

Veterans: A top priority

“Veterans and claimants are always our top priority. We will even go to them, if necessary. We eliminate all of the barriers so all veterans have access to this office and our resources,” said Slep. “Our staff understands that we will always do more than what is required. The words ‘no’ or ‘we can’t’ are never spoken in our office.”

“When Justin joined our team, our ask of him was simple: do more for our veterans. The result has been nothing short of spectacular,” said Franklin County Commissioner Chairman Dave Keller. “The team he has put together and the level of service they have achieved have exceeded all expectations and have been a true blessing to the veterans of Franklin County.”

For more information on Franklin County Veterans Affairs and its services, call 717-263-4326 or visit www.franklincountypa.gov

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