Veterans Benefits Improvements, 2024

Today [Thursday, June 13, 2034] 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 (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. 

“We have a responsibility to support and empower every person who has served and sacrificed for our nation once they return home,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “We are a Commonwealth that has the deepest respect and gratitude to our veterans, and the HERO Act doubles down on that commitment to our service members by delivering the support that they and their families deserve. I’m deeply grateful to the Healey-Driscoll Administration for introducing this legislation, to Senator John Velis for his wok and sustained leadership on this issue, and to each of my colleagues for their efforts and support.” 

“I’m thrilled the Senate has reaffirmed our commitment to better the lives of our brave veterans by increasing their health care and mental health benefits, promoting businesses to hire veterans, and substantially expanding support services for active veterans and their families,” said Senator Michael J Rodrigues (D-Westport), Chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee. “This long overdue initiative will have an immediate positive impact on retired and active veterans, especially providing critical assistance to women and the LGBTQ+ community. I thank the Healey administration for introducing this comprehensive package to address the health and welfare of veterans of the Commonwealth.”   

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 [share of] property tax obligation of a veteran [relieved] 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.  

Senators who currently serve and who have served their country in the past, lauded the legislation. 

“As a Commander in the United States Naval Reserves and an Iraq War veteran, it is my great privilege to serve in a body that commits itself time and time again to honoring our nations armed service members,” said Senator Michael F. Rush (D-Boston), Senate Majority Whip and Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. This legislation passed by the Senate maintains our state’s promise to our service members and their families that they will be honored as they have done for us.” 

“We don’t rest on our laurels in Massachusetts. This bill modernizes our laws to ensure that the Commonwealth remains second to none delivering veterans services and ensures our vets have the supports needed to repatriate into our communities,” said Senator John J. Cronin (D-Fitchburg). “From modernizing how veterans can apply for and access benefits, to supporting businesses that help former service members reenter the workforce, the HERO Act delivers for all those who served.” 

“I am proud to support the HERO Act, a major step towards better services, benefits, and inclusivity for Massachusetts veterans. This legislation reaffirms our commitment to serving all service members and their families, positively impacting hundreds of thousands of veterans, including women and LGBTQ+ veterans,” said Senator Lydia Edwards (D-East Boston). “The HERO Act, inspired by Governor Healey’s proposal, expands behavioral health access, increases benefits for disabled veterans, supports veteran employment, and updates veteran definitions. It also ensures stable housing and essential protections, providing the respect, care, and opportunities our veterans deserve.” 

“Very few are brave enough to raise their hand and pledge to defend our nation and the values that we hold dear, no matter the cost. It is on us – as a Commonwealth – to always remember, recognize, and honor that sacrifice however we can. The legislation passed by the Senate today makes comprehensive and critical additions to the HERO Act to ensure that we are not only supporting Massachusetts veterans but also our active-duty service members and their families as well,” shared Senator John C. Velis (D-Westfield), Chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. “I am extremely grateful for the dedication of my Senate colleagues, many of whom have filed legislation included in the bill passed today, and most especially for the leadership of Senate President Spilka and Chair Rodrigues in continuing to prioritize legislation that supports all those who have served and continue to serve in our armed forces.” 

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.  


Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

7 replies on “Veterans Benefits Improvements, 2024”

  1. what might be the updates regarding credible status for active duty dates to define eligibility dates for veteran.
    For changes of service dates regarding veterans benefits will this apply to a retired state employee? There didn’t appear to be specific details. Thank you, steve burke

  2. All veterans served the country, which means they served each and every one of us, past, present and future and we need to do right by them. Thanks for starting to make up for past wrongs.

    COLA adjustments are great, but since 99.9% of the wealth of the country has been misappropriated let’s be sure to be sure all Americans can make enough to retire without socializing old age.

  3. This says the new bill will allow municipalities to increase the property tax obligation of a veteran in exchange for volunteer services. Is that an error? Did you mean to state it will allow municipalities to decrease the property tax obligation of a veteran in exchange for volunteer services??

  4. Why are conventional taxes even necessary with such a scheme as the State Lottery on the books functioning effectively as a poor tax? Oh, yeah the poor don’t have money (so let’s take what they do have and lower business taxes.) How did it come to be that the state, which is supposed to protect its citizens, is a predatory agent?

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