BOSTON – Yesterday, in the latest effort to support veterans, military members and their families in Massachusetts the Senate unanimously passed the VALOR Act II, legislation to expand benefits, increase access to services and strengthen the recognition and honor given to our service men and women, said State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D- Pittsfield).
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 is not currently 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.
The bill also establishes a definition for killed in action, to distinguish between a family that lost a loved one in combat and a family that lost a loved one who was not in combat.
To assist students who are called to active duty, the legislation 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, it allows private sector employers to prefer veterans and spouses of 100% disabled veterans in their hiring practices.
Under this bill, all veterans’ benefits and service officers in Massachusetts are required to be certified and tested on knowledge of employment, education, health care, retirement and other veterans’ benefits. There is currently no provision mandating such training or certification.
To aid disabled veterans and allow them to function more independently in their homes, the legislation 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.
The original VALOR Act, enacted in 2012, created an option for cities and towns to opt-in to a program allowing veterans to volunteer services in exchange for a reduction of real property tax bills. This legislation builds on the VALOR Act and extends the volunteer veteran property tax credit to the spouse of a veteran who is deceased or disabled.
Additional provisions of the VALOR Act, II include:
Makes “Gold Star” families eligible for funds from the Military Family Relief Fund;
Updates the design of the license plate for individuals who have been awarded the Order of the Purple Heart to also read, “Combat Wounded,” to clearly characterize the nature of 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;
Expands the award qualifications for the Commonwealth’s Medal of Liberty to include service men and women who die in service in a designated combat area in the line of duty
Designates the Massachusetts Turnpike as the “Purple Heart Massachusetts Turnpike;”
Renames Route 44 as the “Gold Star Highway,” between the Towns of Plymouth and Middleborough;
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; and,
Creates a two-year veterans’ court pilot program in Norfolk County.
This legislation now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.