The Massachusetts Senate has passed a bill that would expand benefits and services for the Commonwealth’s veterans and their families.
Receiving unanimous approval in the state Senate, Valor Act II would expand and improve ways the state helps serve those who’ve served our nation. If enacted, the legislation would create a legal definition for the term “Gold Star” commonly used to identify an active-duty service member killed in action. The bill would also expand that to include service members killed during inactive duty training or training between periods of active duty. Democratic State Senator Benjamin Downing is one of the bill’s leading advocates.
“Those are families that have given more than anyone could ever be asked to give to their country,” Downing said. “We ought to be able to clearly and concisely state that sacrifice.”
The bill would also require licensing boards to grant certification for service members and their families in areas where they have received training through the military. Veterans’ service officers would need to be certified and tested on their knowledge of veterans’ benefits. Downing says the goal is to make the transition from military life back to civilian life easier.
“30.2 percent of veterans in the United States are without a job,” he said. “We know that one in seven of the homeless in the United States are veterans.
Valor Act II would also increase the buffer zone for protests at military funerals from 500 to 1,000 feet.
“While in this country, more so than anywhere else, we afford, respect and fight for the right to free speech we also know that there is a time and a place for certain forms of that speech,” Downing said. “What we tried to do here was make sure that when a family is grieving, when a community is grieving the last thing they have to worry about is dealing with a group that may come with a hateful message from the outside to try and disrupt that service.”
Other provisions include renaming the Mass Turnpike the “Purple Heart Massachusetts Turnpike” and creating new license plate designs for veterans. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for a vote. This all comes as the federal government is experiencing a partial shutdown. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Appropriations Lapse Plan, the VA has enough funds available to ensure claims processing and payments in the compensation, pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation programs will continue through late October. However, in the event of a prolonged shutdown, these programs will be suspended when funds are exhausted. Rosanne Frieri is the Director of Veterans’ Services for the City of Pittsfield. She says the state may have to supplement any lack of funding.
“If a person is getting SSI or social security disability we may have to make up the difference,” said Frieri.
Frieri says this could prove troubling for the 130 veterans the city serves.
“It could possibly be a little bit crazy because we have to go in and mend the benefit and reapply more money where the funding isn’t coming in,” said Frieri.
Frieri says it will be business as usual for her office and others across the state while waiting for a plan of action.
“When they make a move then I guess we’ll make our move,” she said. “Right now, as far as we’re concerned, checks will still be going out and we’ll have to see what the federal side is going to do.”
In the end, Downing says a functioning federal government is necessary.
“The state may well be able to bridge a short gap in those services,” Downing said. “This is no way to run a railroad. It’s no way to run a government.”