Op/Ed: Fighting for veterans and first responders

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State Rep. argues for support of education needs for both groups

By Rep. Steve Barrar, State Representative (R-160)

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State Rep. Steve Barrar (R-160)

I spend a lot of my time learning about the needs of the Commonwealth’s emergency responders, veterans and their families. By always remaining informed, I can best represent these groups as the Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee majority chairman. Maintaining a close working relationship allows me to serve both groups of individuals when I complete the many tasks of a state representative.

Connecting with people in their own environment, where they can show me the needs they’re experiencing and the successes they’re having, is particularly helpful. That approach provides the fullest understanding of how the committee and I can help.

I recently toured the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy in Lewistown. In addition to providing training onsite, the academy offers offsite training. To mitigate the hardship of traveling and enable more people to become firefighter-certified, the instructors take the academy on the road to fire companies across the state.

This year, the academy is celebrating its 60th anniversary. While it is well maintained, it does have financial needs—especially related to equipment maintenance. For recruiting and retention purposes, cutting the costs borne by our firefighters for training where possible is a great help. To assist in this regard and provide the training opportunities for our firefighters, the academy is looking to expand. The academy is exploring ways to add dormitories near the academy so people who are being trained can stay on campus rather than having to rent a hotel room. 

In addition to the fire academy tour, the committee joined me when I met with Penn State President Dr. Eric Barron and other representatives from the university. In addition to the typical programs that many colleges and universities have for veterans and service members, Penn State has a wonderful initiative to serve the needs of those who have served and continue to serve our country.

Penn State’s initiative includes a veterans and service members legal clinic that seeks to influence and develop state and federal legislation which affects veterans and service members including policies addressing military voting issues, creation of Veterans’ Courts, issues arising under the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act and regulations to improve the lives of those sexually assaulted during military service.

With the university promoting such forward-thinking veteran and service member-related programs, it’s no surprise that Barron is also a proponent of Act 11, which is the law I drafted to provide out-of-state tuition rates at Pennsylvania colleges and universities to all veterans, regardless of their residency status. The law both protects and enhances our veterans’ GI Bill education benefits.

In fact, Dr. Barron championed similar pro-veteran initiatives during his tenure as president at Florida State University. Barron recognizes not only how important education benefits are to veterans, service members and their families, but also the tremendous asset these individuals are to our higher education system; he is an incredible ally. 

As I continue to advocate for our veterans, service members and their families, it is reassuring to know that there are people like Dr. Barron also fighting for them. To have the greatest and most lasting impact, we must collaborate. Then the veterans of the Commonwealth and our nation will receive the benefits they have earned.

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