Protecting those who served: An agenda for Veterans Services

While there are many areas where Massachusetts has fallen short, one area where we remain a national leader is in providing services to veterans. There is always room for improvement, but the State Legislature has been effective in passing bipartisan legislation to continuously update veterans benefits.

If elected as the next State Representative in the 16th Suffolk District, I hope to continue this strong leadership on behalf of those who served in the military, and I have particular priorities for veterans services that I hope to focus on:

1. Addressing veteran homelessness: Like all vulnerable Massachusetts populations , veterans face pressures from displacement and rising housing costs. In 2019 there was a slight decrease in veteran homelessness, but there were still over 900 homeless veterans in the state. It’s fair to anticipate that this number may rise in 2020 amidst this economic crisis.

To address veteran homelessness, we need to support veteran-preference affordable housing projects that include on-site supports, similar to a project in Revere successfully pushed by Mayor Arrigo and Councilor Novoselsky. Veterans often require particular on-site services that address concerns like post-traumatic stress disorder, physical challenges, and other after-effects of serving.

We can create more of these projects through tax incentives and funding. We can also support state-level changes to zoning laws, and add teeth to affordable housing laws, that will help incentivize veteran-preference projects. We also need inclusionary zoning policies in our communities, to make sure that when new development takes place, space is set aside for affordable housing, especially for vulnerable populations like veterans. 

2. Educational access for veterans’ families: Senate Bill 2502, introduced by Senator Julian Cyr, would allow those benefiting from the Massachusetts National Guard educational credit tuition waiver to distribute these free credits to their children up to age 26, up to a total of 130 credit hours. This is a sensible policy change that would allow those who have served in the National Guard to use benefits they’ve already earned to support their families.

3. Soldier’s Home oversight: This summer, the Baker administration introduced a series of proposed reforms to governance of Soldier’s Homes following the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldier’s Home. But as this tragedy occurred under this administration’s watch, it’s crucial that the Legislature exact oversight as well. 

A special legislative task force chaired by Rep. Linda Dean Campbell is currently investigating the circumstances around the Soldier’s Home outbreak, and preparing its own proposals for reform. 

While the investigation is specifically focusing on the incident in Holyoke, the recommendations oversight panel will have implications for the state’s other Soldier’s Home, located in Chelsea. As such, the two members of the Chelsea House delegation next year – whoever those two may be, as both seats are currently contested – must urge inclusion for one of us to sit on this panel and be active participants in any proposed reforms to Soldier’s Home governance. 

4. Protecting benefits for veterans with PTSD, and veterans discharged for being LGBT: We need legislation similar to a bill passed in New York that would allow more veteran benefits to extend to veterans who received a less than honorable discharge who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury, or were discharged for being LGBT during the age of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Too many veterans have been denied recognition because they were dismissed for who they are. It will take federal action to correct these less than honorable discharges, which is unlikely under this administration – but at the state-level, we can do more to ensure access to benefits.

5. Protecting mental health care and substance abuse services: The veteran population will be particularly impacted by ongoing, much-needed efforts to ensure equity in coverage for mental and behavioral health services, as well as expanded access to evidence-based substance use treatment. 

In the Legislature, I will champion expanded access to these services, just as I did when working at Revere City Hall, when Revere emerged as a regional leader in substance use treatment. I’m proud that the Arrigo administration has prioritized increasing staffing and funding for public health programs and substance abuse treatment, and I look forward to taking this experience with me to the Legislature to benefit veterans and other populations in need of these services. 

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Living up to our obligations to those who served in the military is one of the most important duties of government. The acceptable number of homeless veterans is zero. The acceptable amount of roadblocks to veterans receiving mental health and substance use treatment is zero. While we can be proud of what Massachusetts has accomplished so far, we still have more to do- and i look forward to pushing for more if elected on September 1.  

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