What is your purview?
We have two: the National Guard and veterans. We have 900,000 veterans in Pennsylvania – it’s the fourth-largest contingent in the country – behind California Florida and Texas – which all have temperate climates.
We routinely deploy thousands of soldiers overseas – since 9/11, we have placed 42,000 soldiers overseas. With the National Guard, we also help protect the commonwealth from disasters that overtax normal first responders.
What takes up most of your time and concern on the job?
I’ve spent a lot more time in the veterans arena. I’ve been to lot of the homes, been to the events. I can see my entire term planning to spend a lot more time on veterans issues, finding the veterans that need the help. There are plenty of organizations that want to help veterans; we are concentrating our efforts on outreach – finding the veterans who need help and connecting them with the organization that can help them.
You’ve been in the military for 31 years – how has the governmental approach to veterans changed in that time?
There is a much larger emphasis on taking care of our veterans than when I first came into the military. I came in during the Reagan boom years – the emphasis was on the war fighters. The federal government has done a good job of providing relief and programs for families and vets, and the state Legislature has done a great job as well – that is partly a measure of why we have the fourth-largest concentration of veterans in the country.
There’s a great wave of support for veterans throughout the country, especially in Pennsylvania. It wasn’t always that way – go back to the Vietnam era, vets were not treated that way. Today, anyone in uniform will tell you, people come up all the time to say, “Thank you for your service.”
There are a lot of people out there who want to help veterans but who don’t know how. The biggest challenge is connecting them to the right person.