A new version of this fall's veteran legislation bill is moving through the Massachusetts legislature with profound impacts on local veteran benefit delivery. Although its passage stalled in the fall 2013 legislative sessions, the Valor Act II passed Senate and House votes unanimously this month and is headed for the Governor's signature.
Perhaps the most important measure found in the Valor Act II for Melrose, Wakefield and Saugus veterans is the Veteran Service Officers certification provisions. This would mean service officers hired locally, like myself and District VSO Andrew Biggio, would need to pass licensing tests to ensure our competence. While it might seem counterintuitive that I would want to pass a test in order to keep my job, the long-term viability and importance of VSO competence makes me whole-heartedly support his initiative. I welcome the testing and welcome the idea that service officers assisting the great veterans of our district must demonstrate competence in local, state and federal veteran benefit service delivery. The measure requires that VSOs pass this testing every three years and within 6 months of a new hire.
Our Take - Massachusetts is the only state in the Union that requires municipalities hire a local veteran services officer, who is a veteran, to assist the local population with benefit delivery. It only makes sense that this state would also require that these mandatory hires know what they are doing and do their job well. Kudos to the Massachusetts state legislature for finally implementing this law.
Other important measures found in Valor Act II include:
1.) Protection of college students serving in the National Guard and Reserves
Although most of the state's educationally institutions support the military, our current military structure requires extended service commitments for our Guard and Reserve soldier beyond the traditionally two weeks a year and one weekend a month. These new protections allow these service members to make up their college requirements when military service interferes.
Our Take - The Guard and Reserves play an ever increasing role in our national defense. Let's continue to support their non-military pursuits in thanks for their willingness to serve.
2.) Combating Veteran Charity Fraud
Although hundreds of veteran charities exist to assist our nation's heroes, not all of them are created equal. Charities wishing to use the veteran name for fundraising efforts will be vetted by the Massachusetts Department of Veteran Services and have their credentials listed publicly. This will ensure that organizations seeking your donations on behalf of veterans are legitimate and registered.
Our Take - The public is very charitable towards veterans cause. Let's make sure every dollar donated actually assists veterans.
3.) Military Funeral Protests Fines
It is hard to fathom why organizations would protest at a military funeral...but they occasionally do. Current law requires that protesters stay 500 feet from funerals while protesting. The Valor Act II will increase penalties for violating that buffer zone to include punishment by a fine of not more than $2,000 or by imprisonment for not more than 2 years in a house of correction, or both.
Our Take - We believe in free speech. Even in this awful and unfortunate permutation. However, let's hope this distance continues to grow or becomes unnecessary.
** Please check back as we continue to digest this bill and release more information about its contents **