Pa. House bill hikes cost of birth, death certificates to fight veteran suicides | Thursday Coffee

The cost of the vital documents would rise by $2 under a plan circulated by a Lehigh Valley lawmaker

June 9, 2022 7:15 am

(Photo by Scott Nelson/Getty Images)

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

This year’s Memorial Day observances might be in the rearview mirror, but a scourge that prematurely takes too many veterans from their families is very much still with us.

Between the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and last September, slightly more than 30,000 U.S. veterans have died by suicide nationwide, according to a commentary published by WBUR-FM in Boston.

In 2019, the most recent year for which data were available from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 6,261 veterans died by suicide, the WBUR-FM analysis showed. That’s a 7 percent decrease from the year before, but an average of 17 veterans died by suicide every day, the analysis showed.

In Pennsylvania, a total of 270 veterans died by suicide in 2019, the Capital-Star reported last September, citing federal data. Veterans aged 55-74 made up the largest cohort at 108 deaths, the federal data showed.

On Wednesday, a Lehigh Valley legislator again began seeking support for a proposal he hopes will stem the tide of veteran suicides.

The yet-to-be introduced bill, sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Peter Schweyer, of Allentown, would hike the fee for birth and death certificates by $2 to establish a permanent funding source for a grant program aiding organizations that are working to reduce suicide deaths among veterans. Right now, both documents cost $20, according to the state Department of Health.

Schweyer previously introduced the bill during the 2019-2020 legislative session.

Soldiers lining up for the annual New York City Veterans Day Parade (Getty Images)

“Often, we hear heartbreaking stories of how our veterans struggle with both the visible and invisible wounds of war,” Schweyer wrote in a memo seeking co-sponsors for his plan. “Many veterans become frustrated and disenfranchised with the extremely complicated veteran benefits system, eventually feeling that their only option is to end their life.”

Right now, the state’s Veterans Trust Fund provides about $800,000 in grant funding to charitable organizations that assist veterans. But there currently isn’t a permanent funding source for programs aimed specifically at preventing veteran suicides, Schweyer observed.

The money raised by the fee hikes would be used to create a competitive grant program administered by the Department of Military and Veterans AffairsSchweyer wrote.

In a text message to the Capital-Star, the Lehigh Valley lawmaker added that he’s open to finding other funding sources for his proposal.

“It is critical that we ensure that all of our veterans in the Commonwealth, and their loved ones, have the necessary resources and support for dealing with both the physical and psychological wounds of war,” Schweyer wrote in his memo.

The ceiling of the main Rotunda inside Pennsylvania’s Capitol building. May 24, 2022. Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).
The ceiling of the main Rotunda inside Pennsylvania’s Capitol building on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).

Our Stuff.
It’s officially budget season in Harrisburg. From Staff Reporter Marley Parish and Associate Editor Cassie Millerhere are five issues we’ll be tracking in the run-up to the June 30 deadline to pass a new spending plan.

A state House panel has advanced a bill barring county officials from soliciting or accepting non-government funding for elections, Senior Reporter Peter Hall reports.

A new report by the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science says the Chesapeake Bay’s health has slightly improved but still falls short of meeting government commitments, especially in Pennsylvania, our summer intern, Christina Baker, reports.

The son of a Black woman shot and killed by a white supremacist begged members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to take action against such domestic terrorismCapital-Star Washington Reporter Ariana Figueroa reports.

On our Commentary Page this morning: A bill now before the state Senate will shortchange app-based workersGabe Morgan, of SEIU32BJ, and William C. Sproule, of the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenter write this morning. And opinion regular Bruce Ledewitz has a novel way to end the scourge of assault weapons used in mass shootings: Tax them so heavily that they’re prohibitively expensive. And the body armor the murderers favor? Ban that.

Mayor Jim Kenney delivers his 2021 budget address on Thursday in City Hall ( Tribune Photo by Abdul R. Sulayman)


Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has a $184 million anti-violence strategy. Some city officials say that’s still not enough, the Inquirer reports.

mandatory recount has confirmed that celebrity physician Mehmet Oz is the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, the Post-Gazette reports.

PennLive takes up the ‘distinct’ challenges facing Oz and Democratic U.S. Senate nominee John Fetterman as the general election campaign gets underway (subscriber-only).

The Jan. 6 Select Committee starts its public hearings tonight. LancasterOnline has the Pennsylvania details to look for (paywall).

NPR examines how U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th Districtpushed election lies between Election Day and Jan. 6. (via WITF-FM).

Former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kathy Barnette talks to USA Today Network about her bid (via the York Daily Record/paywall).

An all-Republican Pennsylvania House committee heard directly on Wednesday from state residents contending with inflation, the Morning Call reports.

And during a news conference on Wednesday, Republican lawmakers tore into the Wolf administration’s bridge-tolling planCity & State Pa. reports.

City officials in Wilkes-Barre have boosted the starting pay for summer workers, and got more applicants, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

Erie’s economy got low marks in a national surveyGoErie sifts through the results.

An armed man who threatened to kill U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was arrested early Wednesday morning near the justice’s home, Talking Points Memo reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:


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What Goes On
9 a.m., Capitol Steps: Rally to let local police use radar. This bill has been introduced, and failed, since roughly the invention of the automobile — or so it seems.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Joe Webster. Admission runs $500 to $5,000. The bagels better give you super powers.

As of this writing, Gov. Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept
Best wishes go out this morning to Michael Manzo, at Triad Strategies, who celebrates today. Congratulations, and enjoy your day, sir.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s some new music from Working Men’s Club to start off the penultimate day of the working week. It’s the very dance-y ‘Ploys.’

Thursday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link
European football’s summer transfer window is officially open. The Guardian has the latest on all the moves across the leagues.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.