House Passes Bill to Enhance Support for Veterans and their Families

(BOSTON) – Representative Garrett J. Bradley (D-Hingham) announced that on Wednesday, May 11, 2016, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed veterans legislation with an emphasis on housing and long-term support.

The bill establishes the Office of State Veterans’ Homes and Housing which will advise the Department of Veterans’ Services and provide oversight for the Commonwealth’s two soldiers’ homes in Chelsea and Holyoke. It creates an Executive Director position to head the new office. The Executive Director will focus on long-term care and will be responsible for the coordinated implementation and enforcement of laws, regulations and policies.

The legislation also incorporates the language of Rep. Bradley’s H3130, which relates to the appointment of veterans agents by municipalities. Currently veteran’s service officers (VSOs) are reappointed on an annual basis by the municipality they serve. In the cases of outstanding local VSOs, this bill gives cities and towns the flexibility to be able to appoint a VSO for a term of up to 3 years rather than the current 1 year term. Such a change allows a town to provide for the continuity of services and benefits while still maintaining the ability to appoint for only 1 year.

“I am immensely proud that Massachusetts ranks first in the nation when it comes to military benefit programs and services,” Representative Bradley said. “This legislation reaffirms our commitment to ensure that servicemen and women and their families in the Commonwealth receive the highest level of care and services that we can provide. I want to thank all of my colleagues for their work on this bill.”

Understanding the sacrifice that military personnel and their families make not only while on active duty, but also after returning home, the Massachusetts House has consistently provided a continuum of employment, health care, educational and housing support. Correspondingly, this bill increases access to housing authorities for disabled, elderly and potentially unemployable veterans through two provisions. It also updates existing law so that “Veterans Status” is a clearly protected employment category. Currently only active duty personnel are covered.

In addition:

 

  • Currently only children of Vietnam Era prisoners of war (POWs) are eligible for the Public Service Scholarship. This legislation would extend eligibility to all children of POWs;

     

  • To accurately reflect the realities of present-day military training, paid public-service leave would now apply to uniformed service officers under this legislation;

     

  • Extends a total property tax-exemption to service-connected blind veterans who have a 100% disability rating;

     

  • Fully abates any property taxes due by a surviving spouse following the death or MIA status of a soldier, sailor or member of the National Guard;

     

  • Extends the Veterans’ Long-term Care Commission and reworks the Post-Deployment Council, both of which were created through the 2014 VALOR Act and focus on housing and support services for veterans transitioning from active duty to civilian life.

     

The bill now goes to the Senate.

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