The Berkshire Veteran’s Coalition meeting on March 26, 2015. It was about House Bill HD-1590, being submitted by Rep. Bouvier of Pittsfield. It calls for the regionalization of the Massachusetts Veterans Service Officers (VSOs). Municipalities are required per Massachusetts General Law, chapter 115, to have a VSO, or are required to furnish funds for a regional VSO. If a community is part of a regional service they may designate a liaison to represent the community in name only, they do not have a necessary function. The salaries for the VSO offices are negotiated by the municipalities requiring the service. The professionalism of the VSO is left to the appointing authority. Many of the benefits Massachusetts allows for their disabled veterans are initially paid for by the municipality where the veteran resides and reimbursed by the state, approximately seventy-five percent. The reimbursement from the state can take up to a year.
The bill, HD-1590 is alleged to promote professional attention to veteran claims for aid or benefits. At first glance it is acceptable because it appears to organize a service that is not always efficient. It would divide the state into 25 precincts, managed by state employees and they would manage additional subordinates as they are needed in communities. It is intended to eliminate the community share of all veteran’s benefits and services that would then be assumed by the state, completely under their control without local involvement.
We are told veterans moving to Massachusetts from other states are eligible for benefits the day after they arrive. Massachusetts has some of the most progressive veteran benefits in the nation. It behooves a veteran living in another state under deplorable conditions to move to Massachusetts where many benefits are furnished. With an establishment, such as Soldier-On, a prison or veteran’s hospital would establish residency for needy veterans from another community or state. This can be a substantial burden to the responsible community. Massachusetts does not solicit or attempt to recover funds from the veteran’s initial home state for whatever reason. I can imagine what the reader is thinking, I did also, unbelievable. The subject of eligibility by residence needs legislative scrutiny.
VSOs are members of the communities they serve. Several months ago the Berkshire Veteran’s Coalition submitted a letter to the Department of Veteran’s Services, Coleman Nee. We requested requirements be established for training VSO’s, including necessary training for crisis intervention or suicide. This was the result of a tragedy that occurred in Berkshire County. It was submitted under the last governor, so, I can imagine it is gracing some waste basket?
Disabled Veteran’s, really want answers. We want to talk to other veterans about military matters that we encountered or experienced. This is all but impossible to a non-military person. We believe that it is imperative that a VSO be former military. The comradery is essential. When we ask a question we want a clear unequivocal answer. Especially when we are inquiring as to deserved benefits. The majority of the benefits we receive are compensation for something lost to, or inherited from the military. This requires expertise with personal communication, an attribute for a VSO. The benefit is not a gift, we are not seeking sympathy, usually just answers.
Across the Commonwealth Veteran’s organizations are condemning bill HD-1590 saying it will add another dimension of bureaucracy. Controlled by the state and requiring a budget for many millions of dollars that could have been used to help veterans. The bill does not address this or how it will be funded. It does not stress the requirements for the regional managers, how they are hired or dismissed if the need arises.
From what I have learned, HD-1590 is well intentioned but very lacking in what it will accomplish for veterans. It does not solve any problems we now have and will create a host of many more. It does increase the state government veteran’s budget by millions of dollars. Tax dollars.