Massachusetts Senate Passes HEROES Act to Boost Veteran Benefits ~ Bill Still Needs Governor’s Approval


The Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed legislation to boost support for hundreds of thousands of individuals across the state who have served in the United States military, including nearly 30,000 women veterans. 

Because the bill differs from the House Bill passed last month, both chambers will now move to reconcile the differences before sending the bill to the Governor’s desk to be signed or vetoed.

The comprehensive legislative package, H.4671, An Act Honoring, Empowering and Recognizing Our Servicemembers and Veterans (HERO Act), would increase benefits for disabled veterans, bolster support for businesses that hire veterans, update the definition of a veteran, expand the scope of the Veterans Equality Review Board, and codify medical and dental benefits.

“I am proud to have voted in favor of the HERO Act which passed the Senate yesterday,” said
Senator Pavel Payano (D-Lawrence). 

“This legislation reaffirms our commitment to our veterans and active duty service members. This bill isn’t just about increasing benefits, it’s about ensuring our veterans feel valued and respected when they arrive home.”

“The HERO Act modernizes our veteran services to meet the population’s diverse needs and ensures that no one is left behind, whether they’re women, LGBTQ+, or anyone else who have honorably served our country. This legislation is a reminder that the Commonwealth stands with our veterans with policy that should make a real difference in their lives.”

The Senate’s legislation builds on the historic legislative package filed by the Healey-Driscoll
Administration by including additional provisions which would:

* Require a public school district to provide support services to a military-connected student when a parent or guardian is called to active duty.

* Create a military spouse liaison to help military spouses with obtaining employment and child care, and deal with other issues facing military spouses.

* Allow Gold Star Family spouses to remarry without the penalty of losing their annuity benefit.

Highlights of the Senate Bill Include:

Benefit Expansion

* Expands access to Behavioral Health Treatment: Allows veterans to be reimbursed for visits to outpatient behavioral health providers.

* Increases the Disabled Veteran Annuity: Increases the annual annuity for veterans with a 100% service-connected disability, surviving spouses, or Gold Star Parents from $2,000 to $2,500.

* Increases the Vet-Hire Tax Credit: Increases to $2,500 a tax credit for small businesses hiring chronically unemployed or low-income veterans. Eligible veterans include those receiving SNAP benefits, chronically unemployed veterans, and unemployed service-connected disabled veterans.

* Increases access to the Active-Duty Buyback program: Lengthens the timeframe for veterans in public service to participate in the Active-Duty Service Buyback program and allows retroactive participation for veterans who missed the buyback opportunity. This program will enable veterans to purchase up to four years of active-duty service time toward their state retirement.

* Prevents the “COLA Cliff”: Ensuring that a cost-of-living adjustment in Social Security benefits will not affect veterans’ eligibility for Chapter 115 benefits in the middle of the state fiscal year.

* Increases Local Flexibility for Veterans Property Tax Exemptions: Creates two separate local options. The first allows municipalities to double the veteran property tax exemption without doubling all other exemption clauses. The second ties the annual property tax abatement amount to inflation, allowing exempted property tax amounts to increase with inflation.

* Eliminates the Fee for Specialty License Plates for Veterans: Waives specialty license plate fees on specialty veteran license plates and creates a new woman veteran license plate decal.

* Allows municipalities to increase the property tax obligation of a veteran in exchange for volunteer services.

Commitment to Inclusivity and Greater Representation

* Broadens the Chapter 115 Definition of Veteran: Aligns the state Chapter 115 program definition of a veteran with the United States Department of Veteran Affairs definition. This change allows more veterans to be eligible for annuity, Chapter 115 benefits, access to the Massachusetts Veterans Homes, and other state-provided benefits. This only applies to EOVS programs and does not affect any other agency or entity.

* Expands the Scope of the Veterans Equality Review Board (VERB): Expands the scope of the Board beyond ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ discharges to include discharges related to Military Sexual Trauma, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, mental health conditions, or HIV discharges.

* Expands the definition of a veteran dependent: Expanding the Chapter 115 definition of “dependent” to support more dependents based on the Family Court definition.

* Updates Dependent Residency Requirements to Align with Current Practices: Updating dependent residency requirements to align with current practices. 

Modernization of Veterans Services

* Codifies Dental Assistance Benefits: Ensuring veterans receive essential dental care by codifying dental benefits for Chapter 115 recipients.

* Codifies Medical Assistance Benefits: Providing consistent care to veterans by codifying medical assistance benefits.

* Codifies Authority for Veterans Cemeteries: Ensuring proper management and care of veteran’s cemeteries by codifying the authority for EOVS to continue administering and maintaining the state’s two Memorial Veterans Cemeteries.

* Modernizes statute language for inclusivity and standardization: Revise Chapters 115 and 115A to ensure gender-neutral and inclusive language while removing antiquated references.

* Allows municipalities to deliver chapter 115 benefits by direct deposit.

* Initiates a Study on the Use of Alternative Therapies for Veteran Mental Health Disorders: Establishing a working group to study the potential benefits of alternative therapies, such as psilocybin, in treating veterans suffering from mental health disorders.

Senators who currently serve and who have served their country in the past, lauded the legislation.

“As a Commander in the United States Naval Reserves and an Iraq War veteran, it is my great privilege to serve in a body that commits itself time and time again to honoring our nations armed service members,” said Senator Michael F. Rush (D-Boston), Senate Majority Whip and Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs.

“This legislation passed by the Senate maintains our state’s promise to our service members and their families that they will be honored as they have done for us.”

“We don’t rest on our laurels in Massachusetts. This bill modernizes our laws to ensure that the
Commonwealth remains second to none delivering veterans services and ensures our vets have the supports needed to repatriate into our communities,” said Senator John J. Cronin (D-Fitchburg).

“From modernizing how veterans can apply for and access benefits, to supporting businesses that help former service members reenter the workforce, the HERO Act delivers for all those who served.”

“Very few are brave enough to raise their hand and pledge to defend our nation and the values that we hold dear, no matter the cost. It is on us – as a Commonwealth – to always remember, recognize, and honor that sacrifice however we can. The legislation passed by the Senate today makes comprehensive and critical additions to the HERO Act to ensure that we are not only supporting Massachusetts veterans but also our active-duty service members and their families as well,” shared Senator John C. Velis (D-Westfield), Chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs.