A compromise version of an American Veterans Benefits Bill passed by both branches of the state Legislature recently, ensured that the boards of trustees for soldiers’ homes in Holyoke and Chelsea, Massachusetts, would remain outside the control of a new state office, as would the daily operations of those facilities.
The bill (H 4285) grants veterans protections against employment discrimination and expands access to public housing by giving eligible veterans a preference in elderly and disabled housing in all communities, regardless of residency. It also requires housing authorities to exclude a disabled veteran’s federal disability compensation over $1,800 from their income level used to calculate eligibility for public housing.
Lawmakers Concern for American Veterans Aid
Rep. Jerald Parisella, who negotiated the bill with his Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee co-chair Sen. Michael Rush, stated that passing the bill would demonstrate lawmakers have taken the concerns of veterans seriously, and helped the state maintain its “number one” status in providing veterans services.
The bills passed by the House in May and Senate in June each created an Office of Veterans’ Homes and Housing within the Department of Veterans Services, but the Senate added in language specifying that both soldiers’ homes’ boards would remain independent and day-to-day operations would remain under control of the facilities’ superintendents instead of the new office.
The Soldiers Home Amendment
Sen. Donald Humason, a Westfield Republican who introduced the soldiers’ home amendment, said the soldiers’ home in Holyoke is a “special place” to people in western Massachusetts.
“We’ve always been worried about — being so far away from Boston — the State House and the government not knowing exactly how to deal with the soldiers’ home,” he said in a statement to Press. “Either they ignore it or they micromanage it, and the concern, at least from my perspective here, was we didn’t want to see a new position created that created another layer between the superintendent of the soldiers’ home and the board of trustees of the soldiers’ home and the governor.”
The new version of the bill requires the executive director of the veterans housing office to meet jointly with the board of trustees of the Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts, which is located in Chelsea, and the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke twice per year. The boards will “not be subject to the control of the executive director” and the director “will not have control over the day-to-day operations” of either home.
The bill preserves several measures added in by lawmakers in both branches, including an amendment exempting active-duty military members serving outside Massachusetts from the excise tax on automobiles. Also included was a Senate-backed measure expanding the eligibility for Gold Star Families license plates to any next of kin who has a Department of Defense-issued Gold Star lapel button and letter of approval.
Existing regulations allow the Registry of Motor Vehicles to issue Gold Star license plates to parents, children, siblings, grandparents, and grandchildren of soldiers who died while on active duty.
Under the bill, any next of kin who has both a letter of approval and Gold Star lapel button issued by the United States Department of Defense would be eligible for the special plates.
The bill also designates a monument in Fall River’s Bicentennial Park as the state’s official Gold Star Families Memorial Monument.
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