Pennsylvania is home to nearly one million veterans, but that only tells half the story.
1,500 of them are homeless, which is a 46.2 percent increase since 2009.
About 2,400 Pennsylvania vets claimed Unemployment Compensation benefits last November according to the Center for Workforce Information & Analysis.
With these numbers in mind, Senator Rob Teplitz (D – Dauphin) said state legislators need to keep veterans in their thoughts every day of the year and not just on November 11th.
“We ask a lot of veterans and their families, and when they come back after their service they may have problems with jobs or education or homelessness, addiction or PTSD,” Teplitz said. “So we need to address those as a state.”
Unemployment rates and homelessness are higher with veterans than with the population as a whole, and Teplitz said the state needs to address issues facing vets such as education, job training and healthcare.
Teplitz co-sponsored a bill which grants veterans and families of active duty military preference to public housing. Governor Tom Corbett signed Senate Bill 1135 into law October 27th.
Teplitz is also the prime sponsor of a bill calling for “Veterans Courts” in every county in the state.
“Some counties have them now, but most counties do not,” Teplitz said. “These are specialized courts that deal with nonviolent offenders who are veterans and deal with some of the underlying causes in a specialized way in order to get them back on track and avoid imprisonment.”
Veterans going through the specialized court system, including the one in Allegheny County, receive rehabilitative treatment that is supervised by specialized judges and probation officers. If the veteran is deemed “properly rehabilitated,” the charges are dismissed without creating or adding to their criminal record.
Allegheny County veteran’s court includes a Veterans Clinic program that trains Duquesne University law students on defending vets.
Teplitz said his district office invites a veterans’ service officer each month to help local vets and their families cope with the issues they are facing.
“We also have a veterans’ advisory committee that meets several times a year so that we’re able to talk through concerns that veterans and families have,” Teplitz said.