Friedman Votes to Boost Benefits, Modernize Services, and Promote Inclusivity for Veterans 

Upper chamber builds on and approves historic commitment to people who have served  

(BOSTON—6/13/2024) Today the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed legislation to boost support for hundreds of thousands of individuals across the state who have served in the United States military, including nearly 30,000 women veterans and thousands of LGBTQ+ veterans.  

The comprehensive legislative package, H.4671, An Act Honoring, Empowering and Recognizing Our Servicemembers and Veterans (the HERO Act), would increase benefits for disabled veterans, bolster support for businesses that hire veterans, update the definition of a veteran, expand the scope of the Veterans Equality Review Board, and codify medical and dental benefits. 

“Massachusetts owes a debt of gratitude to the people who have served in our armed forces since the first shots of the American Revolution rang out in the 4th Middlesex district almost 250 years ago,” said Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington), Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “The HERO Act passed today continues our dedication to serve those who served us by improving supports, providing flexibility, and lowering cost barriers to needed programs and services. I am especially glad to see expanded access for mental health care for veterans, knowing that we have a long way to go in understanding the unique challenges our veterans face. I look forward to approving final legislation and getting this to the governor’s desk before the end of the session.” 

The Senate’s legislation builds on the historic legislative package filed by the Healey-Driscoll Administration by including additional provisions which would:  

  • Require a public school district to provide support services to a military-connected student when a parent or guardian is called to active duty. 
  • Create a military spouse liaison to help military spouses with obtaining employment and child care, and deal with other issues facing military spouses. 
  • Allow Gold Star Family spouses to remarry without the penalty of losing their annuity benefit. 

Highlights of the Senate Bill Include: 

Benefit Expansion  

  • Expands access to Behavioral Health Treatment: Allows veterans to be reimbursed for visits to outpatient behavioral health providers.  
  • Increases the Disabled Veteran Annuity: Increases the annual annuity for veterans with a 100% service-connected disability, surviving spouses, or Gold Star Parents from $2,000 to $2,500.  
  • Increases the Vet-Hire Tax Credit: Increases to $2,500 a tax credit for small businesses hiring chronically unemployed or low-income veterans. Eligible veterans include those receiving SNAP benefits, chronically unemployed veterans, and unemployed service-connected disabled veterans.  
  • Increases access to the Active-Duty Buyback program: Lengthens the timeframe for veterans in public service to participate in the Active-Duty Service Buyback program and allows retroactive participation for veterans who missed the buyback opportunity. This program will enable veterans to purchase up to four years of active-duty service time toward their state retirement.   
  • Prevents the “COLA Cliff”: Ensuring that a cost-of-living adjustment in Social Security benefits will not affect veterans’ eligibility for Chapter 115 benefits in the middle of the state fiscal year.    
  • Increases Local Flexibility for Veterans Property Tax Exemptions: Creates two separate local options. The first allows municipalities to double the veteran property tax exemption without doubling all other exemption clauses. The second ties the annual property tax abatement amount to inflation, allowing exempted property tax amounts to increase with inflation.  
  • Eliminates the Fee for Specialty License Plates for Veterans: Waives specialty license plate fees on specialty veteran license plates and creates a new woman veteran license plate decal.   
  • Allows municipalities to increase the property tax obligation of a veteran in exchange for volunteer services.  

Commitment to Inclusivity and Greater Representation  

  • Broadens the Chapter 115 Definition of Veteran: Aligns the state Chapter 115 program definition of a veteran with the United States Department of Veteran Affairs definition. This change allows more veterans to be eligible for annuity, Chapter 115 benefits, access to the Massachusetts Veterans Homes, and other state-provided benefits. This only applies to EOVS programs and does not affect any other agency or entity.    
  • Expands the Scope of the Veterans Equality Review Board (VERB): Expands the scope of the Board beyond ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ discharges to include discharges related to Military Sexual Trauma, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, mental health conditions, or HIV discharges.   
  • Expands the definition of a veteran dependent: Expanding the Chapter 115 definition of “dependent” to support more dependents based on the Family Court definition.  
  • Updates Dependent Residency Requirements to Align with Current Practices: Updating dependent residency requirements to align with current practices.  

Modernization of Veterans Services  

  • Codifies Dental Assistance Benefits: Ensuring veterans receive essential dental care by codifying dental benefits for Chapter 115 recipients.  
  • Codifies Medical Assistance Benefits: Providing consistent care to veterans by codifying medical assistance benefits.  
  • Codifies Authority for Veterans Cemeteries: Ensuring proper management and care of veteran’s cemeteries by codifying the authority for EOVS to continue administering and maintaining the state’s two Memorial Veterans Cemeteries.  
  • Modernizes statute language for inclusivity and standardization: Revise Chapters 115 and 115A to ensure gender-neutral and inclusive language while removing antiquated references.    
  • Allows municipalities to deliver chapter 115 benefits by direct deposit.  
  • Initiates a Study on the Use of Alternative Therapies for Veteran Mental Health Disorders: Establishing a working group to study the potential benefits of alternative therapies, such as psilocybin, in treating veterans suffering from mental health disorders.  

Separate versions of the bill having been passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives, the chambers will now move to reconcile the differences before sending the bill to the Governor’s desk.