Senate Approves “The Valor Act”
The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday unanimously passed “The Valor Act” – new legislation that will expand benefits and increase access to a range of services for veterans, active-duty military and their families, Senator Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) announced.
“Every day, the citizens of the Commonwealth enjoy the gifts of freedom and democracy because of the brave and selfless men and women serving in the armed forces. We must continue to show our gratitude for their service and dedication to our nation,” said Spilka. “This bill ensures Massachusetts remains first in the nation in supporting our veterans and their families by strengthening and expanding the programs, services, and benefits they need and depend on.”
“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,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “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.”
Lead sponsor of the bill, Senator Rush (D-West Roxbury), a lieutenant in the United States Navy, returned in December from a 10-month deployment to Iraq as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve.
The bill works on many fronts to help veterans and active military members improve business, educational and housing opportunities. For example, through the formation of public/private partnerships, it 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.
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, 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.
The Valor Act also does the following:
- Prohibits local hiring authorities from requesting military medical records that are not requested by the Human Resources Department;
- Requires the Department of Veterans’ Services commissioner to be a veteran;
- Allows 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;
- 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 Valor Act, which now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration, is the legislature’s latest effort to support veterans, military members and their families.
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.