State Senator Mike Rush was the lead sponsor for a bill that would expand benefits and increase access to a range of services for veterans.
On Thursday, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed "The VALOR Act," which is for activite-duty military, and their families. The bill will now go to the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
VALOR is an acronym for Veterans’ Access, Livelihood, Opportunity and Resources.
“This omnibus veterans legislation encompasses some of the very best ideas presented by my colleagues in the legislature and the veterans of the Commonwealth to assist veterans and their families with employment, education and services at a time when we are seeing an increase of military men and women returning from deployment overseas,” said Rush, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, via press release. “We want to ensure that Massachusetts remains number one in the nation in providing for our veterans, men and women in uniform, and their families. This legislation goes a long way in bringing this goal to fruition.”
State Senate President Therse Murray, D-Plymouth, announced the passing of the bill in the Senate in the body's Reading Room.
“I am proud to support this bill and proud of the bill’s sponsor, Senator (Michael) Rush, who not only serves this Commonwealth but has put his own life on the line to protect the citizens of our nation,” said Murray, in a release. “Massachusetts does more than any other state to support its veterans. Even during recent fiscal challenges, we increased funding for outreach centers, homelessness services and mental health training to provide for the rising demand of returning veterans. The Valor Act will continue our strong tradition of supporting veterans and military families.”
Rush, D-West Roxbury, a lieutenant in the United States Navy Reserves, .
According to a Murray press release, state Senate Republicans were also pleased with the passage, due to sponsorship of a series of amendments to the bill including:
- The extension of benefits through the Massachusetts Military Family Relief Fund to the families of all active duty members who have served since Sept. 11, 2001, whose deaths were directly related to their military service (the original language contained in the VALOR Act applied only to the family members of soldiers killed in action).
- Revise state tax laws to allow veterans with a disability rating of 10 percent or more to retain a $400 property tax exemption, even if they return to active service (current law prohibits veterans from receiving this exemption while they are enlisted, but allows them to defer their taxes until they return from their deployment);
- Enhance veterans’ ability to secure state-issued licensure and certification in a variety of professional trades by counting service members’ military education, training and experience towards the qualifications required for licensure and certification;
- Extend for 90 days the professional trade license service members returning from active duty for certain Department of Public Safety licenses, such as engineering and firefighter licenses;
- Provide expedited consideration for veterans’ spouses who apply for state licensure or certification; and
- Allow full-time active duty military personnel to receive and attach to their motor vehicle or motorcycle license plate a distinctive emblem issued by the Registry of Motor Vehicles designating their branch of service.
Backers of the bill say it works on many fronts to help veterans and active military members improve business, educational and housing opportunities. According to the release from Murray's office, the bill will facilitates seed money for the start-up and expansion of veteran-owned businesses. It also promotes the participation of disabled-veteran business owners in public construction and design projects.
Democrats touted the bill's power for several reasons, including the following:
- Prohibits local hiring authorities from requesting military medical records that are not requested by the Human Resources Department;
- Creates a local option property tax exemption for veterans who volunteer in their community, with a maximum credit rate equal to the minimum wage and a total exemption not exceeding $750; and
- Directs the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Executive Office of Administration and Finance, Department of Veterans’ Services, and the soldiers’ homes to study the fiscal impact of designating a non-profit entity as a state soldiers’ home.
The legislation also removes certain educational obstacles by requiring the state’s public institutions of higher learning to adopt new policies and procedures for awarding proper academic credit for a student’s prior military training, coursework and experience.
The bill also makes it easier for the children of military personnel to transfer between school districts and states, joining 42 other states in the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children.
To help ease the costs of housing, utilities, medical services and food for Gold Star Families (families who lost a husband/wife in duty), the bill expands eligibility for the Massachusetts Military Family Relief Fund. It also eliminates the $2,500 Property Tax Exemption Cap for Gold Star Spouses.
The bill also helps the courts better recognize veterans issues by making sure veterans and service members facing criminal complaints have a properly recorded military history and are considered for diversion and treatment options if eligible.
In past years, the legislature has passed the Welcome Home Bill so that hundreds-of-thousands of Massachusetts veterans and military families receive better pay, war bonuses, more affordable life insurance, state college tuition waivers and increased annuity payments.
The legislature has also supported the MERIT Plan, providing new property tax and excise tax exemptions for active-duty military and veterans and their families, and has passed additional legislation allowing for increased cash bonuses for those returning from multiple tours of duty and work preferences for disabled veterans.