A bill sponsored by state Sen. Lisa Baker mandating all county directors of Veterans Affairs be accredited as a veteran service officer by a national or state accrediting body gained unanimous approval in a House committee Wednesday and will now be considered by the full House.
Senate Bill 304 was meant to bring a uniformity to a position responsible for interacting with people who wore a military uniform.
The bill, which the full Senate approved 50-0 on Feb. 13, was supported 25-0 by the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee. It spells out the requirements to serve in the position and delineates training requirements and sets minimum standards.
If the bill is approved by the House and signed by the governor, the requirements would go into effect for all people hired by counties to the position from that point on. A person who has been appointed as a county director of veterans’ affairs prior to the effective date will have one year to attain the training and certification required by the bill.
Acceptable training organizations include The American Legion, Veteran of Foreign Wars organizations and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said Diane McNaughton, director of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness, which is chaired by Baker, R-Lehman Township.
McNaughton said that across the state counties have their own guidelines for this office and in some instances veterans aren’t getting the same services or access in one county that they may get the next county over. So this bill would bring equal footing in this regard to each of the state’s 67 counties.
“It is gratifying to see that my colleagues in the House recognize the growing need for this bill and for uniform, minimum standards for county veterans affairs directors. These public servants are already helping our veterans in many more ways than the law provides,” said Baker. “We want to ensure that they have the tools they need to continue to provide the best support possible, whether a veteran lives in Pittsburgh or Pike County.”
Jim Spagnola, a member of the Pennsylvania State Association of County Directors of Veterans Affairs who holds that position in Luzerne County, said the vast majority of county directors are trained and certified annually right now, but he agrees there are some that aren’t and he believes an across-the-board training mandate is a worthwhile venture to better serve those who have served.
“When veterans come home, they are often overwhelmed by the wounds of war and the transition from combat to civilian life. County directors are often the key to reaching these veterans and helping them cut through the red tape and the challenges, from housing and health care to education and job training,” Baker said.