HARRISBURG, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — State lawmakers voted Tuesday to advance six bills for consideration by the full body of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, including one proposal to increase supplemental pension benefits for veterans who are blind, paralyzed or amputees as a result of their military service.

The bills advanced unanimously out of the House Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee with all Democrats and Republicans in support. Three bills were amended for technical changes or to ensure certain personal information remains shielded from public disclosure.

A subcommittee previously recommended the bills move to the full House for consideration which with Tuesday's committee votes means they're now in line for floor votes.

At least four of the bills were voted out of the House unanimously in past sessions but were never considered further in the Senate. This raised concern among committee members including Rep. Mark Gillen, R- Berks, the committee's minority chair.

Gillen said at a meeting earlier this month that he was in touch with the Senate's veterans committee and that its chair, Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams/ Franklin, pledged bills advancing out of the House would receive committee consideration.

"I'm going to play my broken record again. All of these excellent bills deserve floor and Senate consideration," Gillen said Tuesday.

A look at the bills that advanced out of committee:

• House Bill 1091 would raise monthly supplemental pension payments to $270, up from the current rate of $150 — an 80% increase. The rate would rise every other year, when applicable, based on the rate of inflation.

The payments, which haven't been adjusted since 1999, are in addition to any other compensation paid by the state or federal government. An estimated 2,110 veterans receive the benefit. The proposed adjustment would cost Pennsylvania an additional estimated $253,000 annually.

• House Bill 269 would restrict the broad availability of service member discharge records for 85 years rather than the current 75 years, noted as a security measure against potential crimes like identity theft against elderly veterans.

• House Bill 325 would mandate a direct line of communication for decedents of veterans to learn about potential burial benefits through Veterans Affairs.

• House Bill 424 seeks to expand the existing Serviceman's Group Life Insurance to National Guard personnel activated for federal duty status for more than 30 days.

• House Bill 892 proposes to establish in law the PA VETConnect program of the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

• House Bill 1086 proposes information on community outreach programs collected under the Veterans Registry be shared through county Veterans Affairs directors as well as through PA VETConnect.

(c)2023 The Daily Item (Sunbury, Pa.)

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