Senate Passes New Veterans’ Bill – In Your Corner with Senator Ives

Kathleen O'Connor Ives
Kathleen O’Connor Ives

By: Senator Ives – November, 2013

In the latest effort to support veterans, military members and their families in Massachusetts, the Senate unanimously passed legislation in October to expand benefits, increase access to services, and strengthen the recognition and honor given to our service men and women.

Senate Bill 1876, “An Act Relative to Veterans’ Allowances, Labor, Outreach, and Recognition,” known as Valor Act II, also includes language from a bill I co-sponsored with Representative Michael Costello called “An Act Relative to the Medal of Liberty.” This language amends the 2009 law to expand eligibility for the Medal of Liberty. Currently, the Massachusetts Medal of Liberty is given to service members from Massachusetts killed in action. The amended language broadens the definition of eligibility to not only include those killed in action but also includes those “… who died in service while in a designated combat area in the Line of Duty.” This will allow us to honor an even greater number of deserving Massachusetts service men and women who have sacrificed their lives for their country while on active duty.

The Valor Act II also extends to veterans and their families enhanced property tax relief opportunities, employment support services, and new license plates honoring military veterans.

The term “Gold Star” is widely used in the military community to identify a service member killed in action while on active duty, but this term had not been defined by law. This bill establishes a definition of “Gold Star” that includes active duty military and also expands the definition to include service members killed during inactive duty training, or training between periods of active duty.

To assist students who are called to active duty, this bill allows students who are unable to complete their coursework the option to complete the course at a later date or withdraw with a full refund of fees and tuition. If the student decides to withdraw, the academic record must reflect that the withdrawal was due to active military service.

This bill also requires the Division of Professional Licensure, the Department of Public Health and boards of registration to waive license and certification fees for service members and their spouses in areas where they have received training in the field. In addition, this bill allows private sector employers to have hiring priorities for veterans and spouses of 100% disabled veterans in their hiring practices.

Municipal veterans’ agents in Massachusetts provide veterans with information and access to resources they need at the local level when returning to civilian life. Under Valor II, veterans’ agents will be trained and certified to ensure they are aware of employment, education, health care, retirement and other veterans’ benefits available to veterans. There is currently no provision mandating such training or certification. This will bolster veterans’ access to consistent and comprehensive information from municipal veterans’ agents, regardless of the veteran’s town of residence.

To aid disabled veterans and allow them to function more independently in their homes, this bill requires the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission and Department of Veterans’ Services to establish guidelines for a veterans’ home modification program.

This bill also does the following:

• Makes “Gold Star” families eligible for funds from the Military Family Relief Fund;

• Updates license plate designs for individuals who have been awarded the Order of the Purple Heart to also read, “Combat Wounded,” to clearly characterize this honor;

• Creates a new “Support our Veterans” license plate in honor of the men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces;

• Prohibits a person from claiming to fundraise for a designated veterans’ charitable organization when donations would benefit a different organization;

• Increases the buffer zone of 500 feet to 1,000 feet for demonstrations at any military funeral.

This legislation now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.