Boston- State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D-Pittsfield) has joined more than 60 of his colleagues in co-sponsoring legislation to improve communication between the Massachusetts Office of Veteran’s Services and Commonwealth veterans. The legislation seeks to efficiently locate and notify veterans who qualify for benefits under Massachusetts’ Welcome Home Act, which provides benefits for veterans with active service on or after September 11, 2001.
Senator Downing, who serves on the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, recently learned through the public hearings process that fewer than 50% of qualifying veterans of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom have applied for and received benefits available to them. The main reason for low participation rates is difficulty in maintaining communication with veterans upon their return. The contact information provided by the Department of Defense (DOD) quickly becomes obsolete because veterans often move, change jobs or continue their education elsewhere.
“In November of 2005, the Legislature had the vision to pass a measure providing Massachusetts veterans with a bonus for their brave service to our country,” stated Downing. “It is a shame that so many eligible veterans are unaware of the benefits they are entitled to. This bill allows veterans to be easily located and notified so they may receive the bonus benefit they deserve.”
This bill, filed by Stephen Brewer (D-Barre) and Representative Anthony Verga (D-Gloucester), co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, would establish a check-off box on Massachusetts resident and part-time resident tax forms indicating time served in Operation Enduring Freedom and/or Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Upon receipt of completed tax forms, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) would provide updated contact information to the Department of Veterans Services (DVS) in order to initiate the outreach process. With up-to-date contact information, the Office of Veteran’s Services would be able to locate those veterans who qualify but have not taken advantage of valuable benefits. There are no new costs associated with this legislation; in fact, it would likely save money by minimizing the cost and effort of locating veterans.
The Welcome Home Act provides Massachusetts veterans with a $500.00 benefit for six months or more of active service, state side or outside the continental limits of the United States; and a $1000.00 benefit for active service in Afghanistan or Iraq. These benefits are administered by the Office of the State Treasurer and eligibility requirements can be found at http://www.mass.gov/treasury/veteransbonus/welcomehomebonus.htm.