The following is an opinion piece from State Senator Katherine Clark:
Last week the Massachusetts Senate passed the Valor Act, new legislation that will expand benefits and increase access to a range of services for veterans, active-duty military members and their families. The bill was sponsored by Senator Mike Rush (D, West Roxbury), a lieutenant in the United States Navy, who returned in December from a 10-month deployment to Iraq as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve.
As a community, we share a responsibility to honor the tremendous sacrifice and courageous service of our veterans, our servicemen and women, and their families. And, as a Member of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, one of my most solemn commitments is making sure all our veterans and service members receive the benefits and support they deserve. This includes not only medical care, but other necessary services to transition back to life and work in Massachusetts – like housing support, childcare, education, job training and placement services, and access to resources build and grow their businesses.
Recognizing this need for more comprehensive support, the Valor Act expands and improves services in three key areas: business, educational and housing opportunities.
For example, through the formation of public-private partnerships, the bill 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. And it provides for at least a 90-day license renewal extension for service members returning from active duty for certain Department of Public Safety licenses, such as engineering and firefighter licenses.
To facilitate access to higher education, the Valor Act requires the state’s public colleges and universities to adopt new policies and procedures for awarding proper academic credit for a student’s prior military training, coursework and experience.
We also know that military families may face unique demands as a result of deployments or relocations. And so, the bill makes it easier for the children of military personnel to transfer between school districts and states, with Massachusetts 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, those families who have lost a loved one in combat or as a result of injuries sustained in war, the Valor Act expands eligibility for the Massachusetts Military Family Relief Fund and eliminates the $2,500 property tax exemption cap for Gold Star Spouses.
Another challenge that veterans may face is being aware of legal services and treatment options available to them. This bill contains provisions to help our courts better recognize veterans issues and ensure that veterans and service members facing criminal complaints have a properly recorded military history and are considered for diversion and treatment options if eligible.
I am proud to support the Valor Act, which now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on Beacon Hill to provide our veterans, service members and their families with the support they deserve.