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Local Army veteran seeks hunting, fishing benefits for fellow vets

Scouting an area takes patience and attention to surroundings. (Star Tribune/TNS)

Edward J. Kochanski remembers the day more than 40 years ago when he drove two local friends, both veterans, both triple-amputees, to New York to fish Lake Ontario.

“They only had one arm each,” Kochanski, of Throop, said. “The first thing we had to do … is get nonresident fishing licenses.”

“So I got my mine, and they didn’t have a wheelchair ramp. So the clerk came out and he was like blown away when he saw how disabled they were.”

Nonetheless, the clerk said, if they wanted to fish they had to buy licenses.

The incident has bothered the 75-year-old Vietnam War Army veteran for decades. So now he’s doing something about it. He thinks 100% disabled veterans should be able to hunt and fish anywhere in the United States for free, and he expects the governors of all 50 states to agree.

He’s mailing them letters asking them to make it happen.

“We fought for every star on the flag,” he said. “If a 100% disabled veteran in California wants to come to Pennsylvania for a fishing or hunting license, you should get it free. And vice versa.”

Pennsylvania already grants free hunting and fishing licenses to its own residents who are 100% disabled veterans or lost the use of one or more limbs. The state offers reduced-price licenses to any resident war veteran between certified as between 60% and 99% percent disabled.

By a 201-0 vote, the state House passed a bill May 23 that would allow active duty military personnel or disabled veterans from other states to hunt or fish in Pennsylvania if they have valid hunting or fishing licenses in their home state and if their state allows the same benefit to Pennsylvania active military or disabled veterans. Under the bill, the state attorney general could negotiate reciprocal agreements with other states if their hunting or fishing laws are similar to Pennsylvania’s.

The House Appropriations Committee estimates the bill would only cost the state about $112,500 a year if non-resident veteran or miliary fishing and hunting license purchases match the percentage of Pennsylvania disabled veterans and active military personnel among all state residents. That percentage was 1.14% as of March when Pennsylvania had 145,455 disabled veterans and 2,508 active military personnel.

In the 2021-2022 fiscal year, non-resident licenses produced $2,763,793 for the state Fish Fund and $7,093,223 for the Game Fund, according to the appropriations estimate.

The House bill remains pending in the state Senate Game and Fisheries Committee. In a statement issued by his office, state Sen. Greg Rothman, R-34, Cumberland, said he’s reviewing “this and other bills … that look to benefit disabled veterans and active military personnel.”

Attempts to obtain comment from Gov. Josh Shapiro were not immediately successful.

State Rep. Kyle Donahue, D-113, Scranton, said he voted for the bill because active personnel deployed to state military installations deserve a chance to hunt and fish here as long as their states do the same for deployed Pennsylvania residents.

Donahue said many mental health professionals use fishing as a therapeutic treatment for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues.

Rep. Jim Haddock, D-118, Pittston Twp., a member of the House Game & Fisheries Committee, pointed to the “extremely bipartisan” House support.

“Any time you can increase hunting opportunities and fishing opportunities, it’s a good thing for sportsmen,” Haddock said. “But when you can extend it to disabled veterans and active military, it’s a just a bonus. Now you’re giving a benefit to people who have served the country and are currently serving the country.”


(c) 2023 The Times-Tribune

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