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Gov. Corbett signs legislation to benefit veterans - abc27 WHTM

Gov. Corbett signs legislation to benefit veterans

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FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. (WHTM) -

Every year, we take a day to thank our veterans. At Fort Indiantown Gap on Monday, Governor Tom Corbett made sure vets are thanked every day.

With stars and stripes draped around the Keystone Conference Center, Corbett put pen to paper and inked progress for nearly one million Pennsylvania veterans.

John Zagorski of Lititz served in the infamous Bay of Pigs Invasion. He said more should be done to protect vets.

"You just don't bring them home and toss them aside," Zagorski said. "They went there for you. Now, you have to be there for them."

Corbett ceremonially signed seven pieces of legislation into law. Perhaps the biggest impact is the newly formed Veterans Trust Fund. Lawmakers said the fund is financed through several avenues. Soon, officials expect $1.7 million from the sale of the former Scotland School for Veterans Children to give a needed boost to the fund.

Senator Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) said the fund would provide financial assistance for various veteran programs.

Veterans can also opt for a "V" on their driver's license. Lawmakers said this voluntary signifier would help vets obtain discounts and benefits. For the first time, PennDOT will also offer Merchant Marine license plates for World War II. Previously, Merchant Marines were not on the list.

Some needed procedural changers were made. The Pennsylvania Code of Military Justice revised outdated codes, the first time since 1975. The Uniformed Military Overseas Voting Act streamlines the voting process for service men and women.

Law enforcement will be educated on post traumatic stress disorder and other war-related mental illness through the Municipal Police Officers' Education and Training Commission. Lawmakers hope specialized training will improve interaction between officer and a veteran suffering from PTSD.

The governor recognized these payments have been long overdue.

"A debt that we all owe to our veterans. A debt that is owed through blood and sacrifice," Corbett said.

Such commitment continues to show the ugly effects of war. Upon asking five veterans at the event what the top priority should be, each said "veteran homelessness."

Of Pennsylvania's homeless population, 10 percent are veterans. Lawmakers explained language in the Veterans Trust Fund legislation includes financial assistance for homeless veteran programs. However, none of the new laws specifically addressed the issue.

Ray Bates with the Veteran Outreach at the state Department of Labor and Industry told a Philadelphia news outlet the homeless veteran population is the worst he's seen in his 20-year career.

When asked if his administration may tackle this important issue, Corbett responded.

"[We will] focus on [homeless veterans]. But, we have to focus on everything at the same time," he said. "And, the best thing we can do is go out and help these people find jobs if they want jobs."

Corbett hopes the Veteran-Owned Business Procurement Program will do just that. The law encourages state agencies to do business with veteran-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.

Zagorski remains skeptical of the changes, but appreciates the "first step" into helping veterans.

"I think what they did today was wonderful. It was needed," he said. "It shouldn't just stop with today. This should be the beginning, not the end."

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