Helping Veterans in the Year 2002

Many of the questions I get from constituents deal with veterans benefits. And, there are a lot of veterans around!

Some 25,498,000 men and women have served in this country's military. And roughly 40,000 of these veterans live in Hampden County. More than half a million in the Commonwealth.

And, what do we do for them today? I can honestly say, that we do more than we used to. Through many services and benefits, state and federal.

For example, the Federal Government, through the Veterans Administration, annually sends more than $1.2-billion to Massachusetts for direct benefits and programs--$543,063 of that to Hampden County. 

Statewide, it breaks down into $499.5-million for compensation and pensions; $25.3-million for readjustment (education) and vocational rehabilitation; $53.9-million for insurance & indemnities; $3.9-million for construction and related costs; and $615.9-million for medical services and administrative costs.

The VA's mission is "To serve America's veterans and their families with dignity and compassion and be their principal advocate in ensuring that they receive medical care, benefits, social support, and lasting memorials, promoting the health, welfare, and dignity of all veterans in recognition of their service to this Nation."

The Feds, however, weren't the first to care for veterans. Massachusetts was. The system began in 1636 when the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony were at war with the Pequot Indians. A law was passed ensuring that the colony would support disabled soldiers. 

Later, to encourage enlistments during the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress provided pensions for disabled soldiers. 

A few more pieces of history. Originally, the individual states and communities provided medical care for veterans. Veterans' widows and dependents first received pensions and other benefits during the 19th century. In 1811, the federal government built its first medical facility for veterans.

Massachusetts began our state's system of also helping veterans during the Civil War. After World War II, the legislature completely rewrote Massachusetts General Law Chapter 115 "establishing a uniform program of financial and medical assistance for indigent veterans and their dependents" and put the state Commissioner of Veterans' Services in charge of it.

Today, the Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services (MDVS) mission is "To be the leading advocate for the...veterans of the Commonwealth and their families and survivors. DVS establishes policy, proposes legislation, ensures adequate funding for veterans programs...DVS represents all state agencies and individual veterans before the federal Department of Veterans Affairs...administers the needs-based benefits program through Veterans' Service Officers in each municipality of the Commonwealth, and also provides state funding to organizations offering homeless shelter, transitional housing, and outreach services to veterans."

Men and women alike, of course. Think that there aren't many women out there who are veterans? Think again! Some 24,000 women in Massachusetts are veterans. And, the Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services offers a "Women's Veterans' Network" with its own newsletter. 

Programs offered through the Network include special women veterans' health fairs, along with general information on benefits that many female veterans may not realize they are eligible for. 

Call the Women's Veterans Network at 617/727-3578 for more information. Ask, because many women are not aware that they are considered veterans.

I'm proud to say that I served in the House of Representatives with two of our state's women veterans--former Representative Mary Jeanette Murray (R-Cohasset) who was in the U. S. Marine Corps from 1944-1946 and also with former Representative, now Senator, Jo Ann Sprague (R-Walpole) who was in the U. S. Army from 1950-1953 during the Korean War. And they never fail to tell us of their fascinating years in the military,

Perhaps my favorite facility for veterans in Massachusetts is the Soldiers Home in Holyoke. Its only drawback is that it's too popular-there's always a waiting list. (And, the air conditioning has been delayed due to asbestos problems.)

One of the newest options open to all Massachusetts veterans, their spouses and dependents is internment in the new state veterans' cemetery in Agawam. Another state veterans' cemetery will open in Winchendon this year. Formerly, the only Veterans' Cemetery in Massachusetts was the Veterans Administration Cemetery on Cape Cod.

Call my office if you'd like an application for the veterans' cemeteries.

An overdue memorial to Massachusetts Vietnam Veterans is under construction in Worcester, with dedication slated for early June. The Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services, the Massachusetts National Guard, the Worcester Parks Department and the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial Trust, Inc. are in charge.

If you are a veteran with permanent disability due to enemy action or an accident during wartime, you, or a surviving family member, may qualify for an annual annuity of $l,500 from the The Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services. 

There are many, many more programs for veterans. To find out more about your eligibility for programs and services, contact your Veterans Service Officer. In Westfield it's Katherine Stucenski, in City Hall, at 572-6247, and in Montgomery, Daniel Fleishig at 862-8095. 

You can always visit the state's website: www.state.ma.us/veterans/ . If you have more specific problems or questions, give my office a call.

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