Massachusetts House Passes Legislation to Increase Benefits, Tax Credits, and Services for Veterans

Photo by Robert Dorer

Submitted by Rep. Ken Gordon

Representative Ken Gordon joined his House of Representative colleagues in passing legislation that honors veterans in Massachusetts by broadening the definition of a veteran, increasing tax credits and state benefits, and modernizing the services. “An Act honoring, empowering, and recognizing our servicemembers and veterans (HERO Act),” will impact hundreds of thousands of veterans living in Massachusetts.

The bill included an amendment filed by Gordon that extends the deadline for which a public sector worker must enter into an agreement to buy back their time served in the military. 

Under the current law, a veteran must decide on this buy back within the first 18 months of starting their job. This amendment recognizes that the 18-month deadline is often not enough time for an employee to make the best decision for their future. Gordon’s amendment extends the deadline so that a veteran can buy back their military service up until one year after vesting in the retirement system, which typically occurs after about 10 years. 

“Often when people start a new job, they do not know how long they will stay in their role and are not thinking about retirement,” said Gordon. “This amendment will allow veterans a more reasonable amount of time to decide if they would like to buy back the time that they served in the military without missing out on this important retirement opportunity.” 

“The HERO Act is a transformative package of reforms that will make sure our veterans and their families have access to the benefits, resources, and support they deserve,” said Gov. Maura T. Healey. 

The bill passed last week broadens the definition of “veteran” for the purposes of expanding veteran benefits eligibility, to include any person who served on active duty for at least 90 days, and whose last discharge was under conditions other than dishonorable; any person who served on active duty, in the National Guard or as a reservist, including solely for training purposes and was awarded a service-connected disability, or died in such service; and any person determined to be a veteran according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans who are current Massachusetts residents will be eligible for benefits, regardless of how long they have resided here.

The HERO Act includes the following changes to veteran benefits: 

  • Medical assistance, dental, and vision benefits: requires the Secretary of the Executive Office of Veterans Services (EOVS) to provide a medical assistance benefit, behavioral health assistance benefit, and dental benefit beyond other benefits available to veterans, including medical and dental visits, behavioral health assessments, procedures, prescriptions, and costs. 
  • Benefits for dependents of veterans: updates the definition of “dependent” to make it gender neutral and include children over the age of 18 who meet the criteria for emancipation. It also expands the pool of coverage by extending benefits to dependents who are mentally or physically unable to support themselves after reaching the age of 23. 
  • Veteran benefits income eligibility: clarifies that an increase to an otherwise eligible veteran’s income due to a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) made to social security, supplemental security income, or social security disability insurance would not render the recipient ineligible for benefits in the year the adjustment was issued.
  • Annuity for blind, paraplegic, or veterans with disabilities: starting July 1, 2024, increases from $2,000 to $2,250 the annuity for blind, paraplegic, or veterans with disabilities. Starting July 1, 2025, increases from $2,250 to $2,500 the annuity for blind, paraplegic, or veterans with disabilities. 
  • Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemeteries: codifies the authority of the recently created EOVS to operate, maintain, and expand the Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemeteries in Agawam and Winchendon, and to add new locations, subject to the availability of funds, to meet the needs of veterans and their dependents.

The HERO Act includes the following tax initiatives:

  • Veterans’ property tax abatement and exemptions: creates two local options, a) municipalities may annually increase local property tax abatements for veterans in an amount equal to the increase in cost of living determined by the Consumer Price Index for the year and b) municipalities may offer an additional exemption to veterans that qualify for local property tax exemptions up to 100 percent of the amount of the exemption for which veteran qualifies. 
  • Employer tax credit for hiring veterans: increases from $2,000 to $2,500 the amount of a tax credit for each qualified veteran hired by an employer and for subsequent years of continued employment of each veteran. This applies for taxable year 2024. 
  • Motor Vehicle Sales Tax exemption: adds veterans with disabilities with a Purple Heart recipient plate to those allowed a sales tax exemption for the purchase of a motor vehicle for personal use. 

The HERO Act also includes the following reforms: 

  • Veterans’ license plates: maintains authorization for the Registrar of Motor Vehicles (RMV) to furnish veterans, including prisoners of war and recipients of certain medals, with distinctive license plates and emblems indicating the branch of service, award received, or disability status. The distinctive plates and emblems must be issued without a fee other than the established registration fee for private passenger motor vehicles and motorcycles. 
  • DCF 51A reports and notice to military authorities: requires the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to collect information regarding the military status of parents, guardians, and caregivers during an investigation for the abuse and neglect of a child, and provide notice to the appropriate military authorities of allegations of abuse and neglect of a child involving military personnel. Requires the Commissioner of DCF to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the federal Family Advocacy Program (FAP) at military installations in Massachusetts related to sharing information regarding investigations.
  • Alternative therapies for mental health treatments: requires EOVS, in coordination with the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), to convene a working group to study and make recommendations on the use of psychedelics as an alternative therapy for mental health treatments for veterans.
  • EMT training waiver for veterans: authorizes the Department of Public Health (DPH) to issue a waiver for veterans applying for an emergency medical technician (EMT) certification in Massachusetts if it is determined by DPH that the education and training requirements for veterans and military medics of the US Armed Forces are sufficiently comparable to the requirements for EMTs in Massachusetts.
  • Slot machines: the bill allows certain veteran’s organizations to be approved by the Gaming Commission and their local licensing authority for up to five slot machines on their premises.

Having passed the House of Representatives 156-0, the bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

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