AIMING HIGH FOR VETERANS AND MILITARY FAMILIES

Standing Up for Those Who Stood Up for Us

Let's Aim High

The women and men who serve in our military perform the ultimate form of public service. They and their families make enormous sacrifices for our safety and for the protection of our ideals and way of life.

In return for their service and the sacrifices they make on our behalf, veterans, active members of the armed services, and their families deserve our respect and gratitude. They also deserve our support.

Veterans and their families deserve the comfort of knowing we will be there for them in the same way that they were there for us.

We must be there for Gold Star Families who lost a loved one in service and sacrifice to our collective wellbeing.

We must help veterans successfully reintegrate into civilian life. No veteran should go without a roof over their head; a job to support themselves and their families; and the health care services they have earned and need to be as healthy as they can be.

We must honor and support veterans of all types from all eras and from all forms of service, whether they be men or women, straight or LGBTQ, black or white, a Vietnam veteran or a War on Terrorism veteran, a Marine, Airman, or any other kind of veteran. Each is a veteran who served our country, and they and their families deserve the same level of support and recognition for their service and their sacrifices.

Not Satisfied with the Status Quo

"Massachusetts proudly leads the nation with a comprehensive set of benefits and services for those who served our Commonwealth and nation. But there are still many areas where we are falling short and could do better.

Homelessness continues to be a problem that disproportionately affects veterans; one homeless veteran is too many.[1]

Veterans continue to face too many barriers getting a job to support themselves and their families. Too many veterans are going without the health care services they need, particularly for mental illness and addiction, resulting in veterans making up 20% of all suicides in Massachusetts.[2].

Particularly concerning, there are thousands of veterans across our state eligible for state benefits and support who are not receiving them because of management failures by the Baker Administration. Based on a recent report of the State Auditor, the Baker Administration is failing to access publicly available data and to share data across state agencies to identify and reach out to thousands of veterans entitled to benefits who are not currently receiving them.[3].

With an influx of post-9/11 veterans returning to Massachusetts following combat service in Iraq and Afghanistan, we need to have an even greater sense of urgency in addressing these deficiencies and ensuring we are doing all we can to support veterans and their families.

Principles and Proposals

A Gonzalez Administration will build on Jay’s record under the Patrick Administration to enhance the support we provide to our veterans, members of the armed services, and their families.

In his role as Governor Deval Patrick’s Secretary of Administration & Finance, Jay worked with Governor Patrick to:

  • Increase Veterans’ Benefits – Increased funding for veterans’ services to levels that far surpassed the resources per veteran funded by any other state, even during tough fiscal times
  • Help our Servicemembers and their Family Members Secure JobsIn 2011, launched an aggressive employment campaign focused on increasing the hiring of Massachusetts veterans and created the Interagency Taskforce on Hiring Veterans, which released a plan to improve hiring policies, practices, and processes.
  • Support Veteran-Owned Businesses Following authorization in 2012 of The VALOR Act, implemented Governor Patrick’s executive order to help small businesses owned by disabled veterans gain access to contracts for public projects in the areas of construction, design and goods and services procurement.

The Gonzalez Administration will continue this mission and be a strong advocate for those who served as well as our Commonwealth’s Military and Gold Star Families by pursuing the following agenda:

A Whole of Government Approach to Veterans’ Services

  • Elevate Veterans’ Services to Cabinet Level Position in the Executive Branch – File legislation making the Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans’ Services a full participating member of the Governor’s Cabinet. This will give the Secretary of Veterans’ Services enhanced authority to address any issue affecting veterans and to advocate on their behalf. It will also ensure that the Governor is more directly engaged in veterans’ issues and able to effectively deliver on his veterans’ agenda.
  • Create New Partnerships To Leverage Help for Veterans – Partner with state and federal officials to secure support for our VA hospitals, clinics, cemeteries, Soldiers’ homes, veteran-owned businesses, housing, workforce training, and more; partner with nonprofit and academic partnerships to benefit veterans’ employment, education, housing, consumer protection, and legal and financial assistance; and partner with industry to ensure we are doing all we can to employ returning servicemembers.
  • Enforce compliance, training, and professional development requirements for Veterans’ Service Officers – Provide veterans with access to the resources they need by making sure each municipality has a Veterans Services Officer available to its veterans and sufficient funding for their training and compliance.
  • Support Aging Veterans – Work with our Congressional delegation and officials from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to advocate for geographically convenient long-term care and assisted living options for veterans in all areas of Massachusetts, and conduct a capital needs review of both Soldiers’ Homes in Holyoke and Chelsea to ensure that our veterans receive the high-quality care and services that they have earned.
  • Endorse and Support Equality – Protect the rights of all veterans, including men and women, minorities and LGTBQ veterans, and ensure that the Commonwealth remains a place where they are all respected, honored and supported.
  • Support More Outreach – Establish a Governor’s Committee on Veterans Outreach to determine what steps need to be taken to more effectively identify and connect with veterans to ensure they and their families are aware of and accessing the benefits to which they are entitled and receiving the support they need and deserve. Among other potential initiatives, the Committee will evaluate whether to: increase peer-to-peer programming and outreach; create veteran outreach positions at all relevant state agencies; and establish and maintain a consolidated statewide veterans’ database across all human service agencies.

Provide Health Care, Mental Health and Behavioral Health Services for Veterans and their Families

  • Work to Remove Barriers – By promoting peer support, expanding behavioral health education, and expanding treatment services for mental illness and behavioral health services, work to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness, addiction and other behavioral health disorders and ensure we are meeting the demand for these services across all populations, including veterans.
  • Support Programs with Proven Results – Support peer-to-peer services provided through the SAVE (Statewide Advocacy for Veterans Empowerment) program, a joint initiative of the Department of Veterans Services and Department of Public Health to help veterans at risk of suicide, substance abuse and other harmful behaviors.
  • Enhance and Scale Up Veterans Treatment Courts – Expand access to veterans’ treatment courts and diversion programs established under the VALOR Act, and ensure that court personnel are appropriately trained.

End Veterans Homelessness Through More Affordable Housing Options

  • Fund Programs to Support Veterans Supportive Housing and End Veterans Homelessness – Build on the effort to eliminate homelessness among the state’s veteran population through “Housing First” and harm-reduction models and invest in programs to create affordable housing options for veterans in all areas of the Commonwealth.
  • Upgrade Critical Infrastructure at State Facilities – Fund any necessary repairs and expansion at the Chelsea and Holyoke Soldiers’ Homes to give veterans and their healthcare providers the facilities they deserve.
  • Build on Existing Public-Private Partnerships – Build on existing partnerships between the state and non-profit organizations addressing issues facing homeless veterans and work to replicate successful programs across the Commonwealth. Programs such as Pittsfield’s Solider On are models of effective ways to deliver services while also housing homeless veterans.

Support Returning Veterans Through Education, Workforce Training, and Employment and Business Resources

Support Student Veterans

  • Enhance the Position of Student Veteran Representatives – Evaluate and strengthen the role of the Student Veterans Representative at each public higher education institution. This individual must be trained in all elements of benefits and services to help our student veterans transition and succeed.
  • Create a New Resource – Direct the creation of a comprehensive online guidebook on veterans’ specific resources at each state college and university so veterans can browse options before choosing where to enroll.
  • Support Federal Programs – Promote the GI Bill so all veterans know the benefits for which they and their dependents are eligible.
  • Continue Implementation of New State Laws to Benefit Student Veterans – Build on recent efforts to standardize the credit transfer process so past military experiences translate to college credit.
  • Create Local Supports – Link the Student Veterans Representative to the local city/town VSO and the local National Guard Armory and/or military base to create another tie for local support to student veterans.
Employ Veterans and Military Spouses
  • Encourage Veteran Hiring – Expand employment initiatives for veterans and spouses to all regions of the Commonwealth through chambers of commerce, workforce investment boards, and business associations so no veteran is at a disadvantage. Many companies remain unaware of available tax credits or that a veteran may not need to access employer health insurance. Build on efforts under the Patrick Administration to better educate employers on tax credits and other benefits for companies hiring previously unemployed or homeless veterans.
  • Support Veteran Hiring in State and Quasi-Public Government – Have state government and quasi-public agencies lead by example by hiring more veterans and military spouses and educating human resources officers on how to translate military resumes into agency-specific needs.
  • Support Civil Service Preference for Veterans, and Expand to Gold Star Children – Continue to support the preference that exists for veterans in civil service hiring, and file legislation seeking civil service preference for Gold Star children as is already the case for the children of firefighters and police officers killed in the line of duty.
Assist Veteran-Owned Businesses
  • Support Veteran Contracting – Increase state contracts with veteran-owned small businesses, including disabled veteran-owned small businesses, for public projects in the areas of construction, design, and goods and services’ procurement.
  • Boost Veteran Innovators – Connect returning veterans and the innovation economy so the brainpower and technical expertise of our veterans can be tapped by industry and academia and help veteran-owned small businesses access capital.

Support Military Families and Military Child Education in Communities

  • Train School Personnel and Ensure Access to Adequate Information. – Direct the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to work with public school districts to train teachers, guidance counselors, nurses, administrators and coaches on the unique needs of military children and on how to provide support and available resources, and task the National Guard and DESE to improve information sharing with school districts to ensure children of military personnel are properly supported.
  • Create Greater Awareness In the Classroom – Direct DESE to create a week long optional curriculum called “The Service of Veterans” aligned with history or civics lessons to give students greater awareness about contributions of our veterans.
  • Prioritize the Children’s Best Interests – Direct the Department of Children and Families to work with military installations to ensure appropriate reciprocal processes are in place to communicate and respond to reports of child abuse and neglect involving military families.
  • Build Upon a National Model for Military Support – Support the National Guard and the Inter-Service Family Assistance Committee’s efforts to support returning service members and military families by reducing gaps and duplication in services, providing relevant information to VSOs, running events and groups to support military spouses, and enhancing family assistance delivery systems.
  • Provide Education Options for Gold Star Children – Establish the Commonwealth’s Gold Star Scholarship program which will cover all tuition and fees at any Massachusetts public college or university for dependent children of those who have died while serving honorably in the Armed Forces.
  • Expand Gold Star Families Eligible for Benefits – Expand the definition of Gold Star Families eligible for state benefits to include the families of those who died in military service, regardless of whether the death was caused during combat or other circumstances.

Maintain Our Memorials and Cemeteries

  • Fund Existing State Memorials – Ensure full funding for Massachusetts Military Cemeteries in Agawam and Winchendon.
  • Explore Creating a New Cemetery – Form a task force to examine the need to establish a third state military cemetery in Eastern Massachusetts.
  • Invest in Local Community-Based Memorials – Support funding for the Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Commission through the Department of Veterans’ Services, which provides grants to establish and renovate community-based veterans memorials in communities throughout the Commonwealth.

Sources

1. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 949 Homeless Veterans living in MA as of 2016 - https://www.hudexchange.info/resources/documents/2016-PIT-Estimate-of-Homeless-Veterans-by-State.pdf
2. Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention - http://www.masspreventssuicide.org/suicide-info/
3. Office of the State Auditor’s Official Audit Report – Issued September 20, 2017 regarding the Department of Veterans’ Services.