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State Rep. James Arciero announced July 30 that the 2019 Veterans BRAVE Act, seeks to provide additional benefits and programs for Massachusetts veterans and their families in the Commonwealth. The bill was recently passed by both the House and Senate and is now headed to Governor Baker’s desk for his approval.
The bill is officially titled An Act Relative to Veterans’ Benefits, Rights, Appreciation, Validation and Enforcement.
“I am very pleased with this legislation that contains three of my veteran bills which I hope the Governor will sign,” said Arciero, who has been a member of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs for four terms during his tenure in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
Arciero originally filed three separate bills to assist Massachusetts veterans and their families. These bills included exempting the annual annuity payments given to Gold Star families, who receive this benefit in remembrance of the ultimate sacrifice of their family member, from being considered income subject to taxation and from being considered in the application of any state services or benefits. This bill was filed when a constituent, whose son was killed in action in Afghanistan, was denied MassHealth coverage due to this $2,000 payment being considered income for her application. This annuity put her application less than $100 dollars over the threshold for eligibility for health care coverage.
“I could not in good conscience let this stand. No mother or father or spouse of an American soldier killed in service to this nation should be denied healthcare coverage for their family member’s sacrifice,” said Arciero.
A second proposal sought to establish a special commission to study the cost and feasibility of exempting veterans in Massachusetts from paying tuition, fees and other associated costs to attend a public college or university in Massachusetts. Originally filed to fulfil the promise made to Massachusetts veterans in 1991 to pay for their higher education by exempting them from paying tuition at Massachusetts public colleges and universities, subsequent years has seen the rise in the fees associated with obtaining a college degree and has over the last 25 years essentially abolished the intended benefit of the 1991 Act. This commission will study this issue as well as the extent of coverage from federal benefits provided for in the national Forever GI Act.
The final Arciero bill sought to allow active service members, who have been awarded a Bronze Star for their service, to be eligible for the Bronze Star license plate for their personal vehicles. Currently, such plates are only available for veterans who are no longer active in military service, but not for active duty or reservists.
“As a member of a military family with my brother and brother-in-law serving multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as a member of the Veterans Committee, I know these special Americans are heroes and they and their families deserve all the recognition, benefits and services we can give to them for their service to our nation,” said Arciero.
The BRAVE Act also contains provisions to change the eligibility requirements for property tax exemptions from five consecutive years to two consecutive years, increase burial expenses for indigent veterans from $2,000 to $4,000 and waive certain training requirements for EMT certification for military trained medical professionals. Another section would allow military men and women who were in active service outside the United States to be paid $1,000 for hostile fire or imminent danger pay and those who were not in such dangerous circumstances to receive $500. Finally, the bill calls for the creation of a Massachusetts Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture program to enhance the education, training, employment, income, productivity and retention of veterans currently working in or aspiring to work in the field of agriculture.
“This bill continues the fine tradition we have in Massachusetts of leading the nation in taking care of our veterans and their families,” Arciero said.