Senate Approves “BRAVE Act” for Veterans
Improving Benefits and Services for Veterans, Active Military Members and Families
BOSTON – The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday voted unanimously to pass final language of a bill designed to expand benefits and increase access to a range of services for veterans, active-duty military and their families, known as the “BRAVE Act”
Understanding the sacrifice that military personnel and their families make not only while on active duty, but also after returning home, the Massachusetts Legislature has consistently provided a continuum of major veteran legislation to help with those who sacrifice the most for our freedoms.
“This omnibus veteran’s legislation encompasses some of the very best ideas presented by my colleagues in the legislature and the veterans of the Commonwealth to assist veterans and their families with employment protections, tax exemptions, burial expenses, court programs, medical care, and also continues to recognize those who serve and who have served, said Senator Rush, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs.” “We want to ensure that Massachusetts remains number one in the nation in providing for our veterans, men and women in uniform, and their families. This legislation goes a long way in accomplishing this goal.”
“As Senators, one of our most crucial responsibilities is ensuring that our veterans – those that protected us through dangerous times – are themselves protected. As the daughter of a veteran with health challenges, I know how important it is to care for those men and women in uniform after they have served. The BRAVE Act will go a long way to fulfilling our promise to them and to their families, as we continue to lead the nation in caring for veterans. I am exceptionally grateful for the work of Senator Rush and the entire Joint committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs in bringing forward this important bill,” said Senate President Karen Spilka.
On the recognition front, the legislation designates the 5th day of April as Gold Star Wives Day and the last Sunday in September as Gold Star Mothers and Families Day and directs cities and towns to designate reserved parking for veterans at all city and town halls.
The bill also grants paid military leave for those called to duty by the armed forces for up to 40 days for training and operation purposes.
To help ease the costs of housing, the legislation changes the requirement for veterans to receive property tax exemptions from residing in the Commonwealth for five years down to two years. It also increases the amount a veteran can earn on their property tax exemption for volunteering in their city or town.
The BRAVE Act increases the burial expense paid by commonwealth from $2,000 to $4,000 for indigent veterans to receive to adequately provide for a dignified funeral. It also exempts any veterans who receive annuities for service to their country from income calculations when applying for state programs or services.
The bill also:
- Addresses emergency medical transportation reimbursements;
- Updates the veteran bonus program at the State Treasurer’s Office,
- Directs cities and towns to designate veteran specific parking spaces and city and town halls;
- Exempts any veteran receiving a veterans annuity from declaring such as income for the purposes of calculating eligibility for other state programs and services;
- Provides veterans time off, with or without pay, at the discretion of the employer, for Memorial and Veterans Day so they can take part in ceremonies in their community;
- Establishes several studies and analysis regarding higher education, incarcerated veterans, creditable service and National Guard recognition;
- Revises the Veteran Court Diversion program.
Under the new criminal justice law any adult may be considered for diversion for the following offenses:
- Simple assault and battery
- Picketing court, judge, juror, witness or court officer
- Disruption of court proceedings
The final language allows veterans, who are suffering from a service related substance abuse or mental health issues due to their service, to provide information related to their illness to the courts to be considered for diversion for the offenses referenced above and also for a first offense OUI (with protections).
(c) Notwithstanding any contrary provision of this section, a person may be diverted to a program pursuant to this chapter if the person is: (i) charged with an offense pursuant to subsection (a) of section 13A of chapter 265 or section 13A or 13C of chapter 268; or (ii) a veteran or a person on active service in the armed forces of the United States charged with an offense pursuant to subparagraph (1) of paragraph (a) of subsection (1) of section 24 of chapter 90 who: (A) has never previously been arrested for or been the subject of a complaint alleging a violation of an offense pursuant to said subparagraph (1) of said paragraph (a) of said subsection (1) of said section 24 of said chapter 90 or a like offense in another state or the United States or a military, territorial or Indian tribal authority; and (B) has been clinically diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, substance abuse disorder or serious mental illness in connection with the veteran’s military service or the person’s active duty. The court shall consider the opinion of the prosecution in determining whether to divert a veteran or person on active service to a program pursuant to clause (ii). Diversion of a district court charge under this chapter shall not preclude a subsequent indictment on the same charges in superior court.
The BRAVE 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.