TOWN OF HOPEDALE
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS' SERVICES
HOPEDALE, MA. 01747
Robin L. Fletcher
DIRECTOR OF VETERANS' SERVICES
FAX (508) 634-2200
Chapter 115 of the Massachusetts General laws dates back to 1861 and the Civil War, and to related laws and regulations which established the Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services to oversee state mandated municipal departments of veterans' services tasked with providing benefits to Massachusetts Veterans in need.
Local veterans' services provided for by state law are maintained in each of the 351 cities and towns of the Commonwealth for the sole purpose of assisting veterans and their dependents in receiving federal, state, and local benefits. These benefits are made available by the Commonwealth and its' taxpayers, as well as by the U.S. Government. In some cases, local communities offer benefits usually in the form of tax abatements or matching grants. Not all towns have local benefits, but all towns are required to provide benefits based on need.
Your Veterans' Services Officer is intended to be a part of the local governmental structure and the representative of both past and present local veteran population. He provides the veteran and his or her dependents a conduit of access to federal, state and local benefits and services. These are benefits to which they are entitled under Massachusetts and Federal Law, including a wide range of financial, medical, educational, and death benefits. Not everyone is eligible for these benefits, but many are.
Nearly 25% of the residents of Hopedale are veterans or dependents of veterans.
Originally, the law referred to "veterans' agents," or where there were Districts formed, "directors of veterans' services." In 2001 the Massachusetts State Legislature changed the designation from Veterans' Agent to Veterans' Services Officers (or VSO's.) The responsibility of the VSO is to fairly assist veterans in receiving benefits to which they may be entitled.
Throughout the years from the end of World War II in 1945 to the end of the first war in Iraq (Desert Storm,) most of our participating veterans were those who had endured severe disabilities, or were in need of public assistance. These veterans seldom sought the services of the local veterans' agent, even though they were in need of help. Since that era, a younger generation of veterans has come forward, fueled by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, many benefits have been authorized by the legislature which provide for honoring and recognition of the veteran's service. One example of such a change is a recently passed law which provided the opportunity of a veteran to have the word "Veteran" placed on his motor vehicle liscense. This provision is designed to recognize the individual's
past service, but it also coincides with and facilitates other laws modifying the judicial system, and helps in determining the outcome of decisions made in certain jurisdictions where a court of law can defer incarceration under the Jail Diversion Program and provide help for individuals who may need mental health treatment or other support. It also may help the veteran in other more-critical facets of life such as suicide prevention.
During the first half of the 20th Century, much of the VSO's caseloads were concentrated on helping elderly Spanish American War, World War I, and somewhat younger World War II veterans. During the last half of that century, attention turned more toward reintegrating and assisting the Vietnam veteran, who in greater numbers than WWII and Korean War veterans, turned to their veterans' services officers for help. Recognition of psycological and physical problems associated with wartime injury slowly has become more common. Concepts of injury, such as post traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, the impact of Agent Orange, homelessness, and addiction to alcohol and drugs expanded the need for more sophisticated programs of assessment and supportive assistance. This awareness expanded the conventional definition of "injury,"
to a broader spectrum of issues than had previously been in place following World War II or the Korean War. Although many soldiers during that earlier period suffered from similar problems, the bulk of World War II and Korean War veterans had eventually settled down to jobs and used Vetrans Administration benefits to get an education, build homes and raise families. They had little knowledge of the existence of or need for the services of their VSO's to help them get through the maze of applications, forms, and procedures needed to receive these benefits effectively. Until about 1995, the time and energy of most VSO's was spent helping a relatively small number of veterans receive financial assistance on a minimal scale, and participating in ceremonial activities honoring local veterans (such as at funerals, on Memorial Day, or Veteran's Day.)
As we entered the 21st Century, the World War II and Korean War veterans who previously did not need the services of their VSO in the past are now in the last phase of their lives. Most of them are well into their 80's or 90's, and some are over 100 years old. For the first time, they find they are in need of help from their local VSO's.
Many older veterans have medical problems or are using prescription medication. They are quickly becoming conscious of latent service-connected disabilities that were once ignored. Also, they are searching for missing awards and medals, some of which are over seventy years in arrears in being delivered. As VSO's, we help by determining whether they are eligible for a broadened financial assistance for medical care, prescriptions, real estate tax abatement, or guiding them toward other needs or desires, such as veterans' license plates, and burial benefits. We also sometimes help them decide how to plan for their own funerals. We assist funeral home directors with information regarding whether the veteran is due full military honors, and help provide markers for their final resting place either locally, or in a state or
federal veteran's cemetery.
While it is true that the number of our veterans' ranks are declining dramatically (especially WW II and Korean War veterans,) the use of local VSO's assistance has increased. This is primarily due to the complexity of rules, laws, and opportunities that have occurred over the past decades. Also, as long as the United States maintains its' sovereingty using armed forces, there will always be veterans returning to Massachusetts.
Recent legislation has been enacted by the Commonwealth to benefit our veterans and their dependents, and includes:
1. There are two state owned and operated cemeteries providing an inexpensive option for veterans, and their spouse after death.
2. Mandated training of all Veterans' Services Officers, providing expertise and fairness in accessing benefits for veterans and dependents, where qualified.
3. Improved real estate tax abatement for certain disabled veterans and a tax abatement program for veteran volunteers providing community service in participating towns.
4. Granting surviving spouses of certain disabled veterans the same real estate tax abatement that the Veteran received while alive.
5. Increased amount of state-funded annuities to $2000 for 100% disabled veterans.
6. Peace-time veterans are entitled to Chapter 115 benefits under Massachusetts General Law.
7. An established and funded a woman veteran's outreach program.
8. Welcome home bonuses provided and expanded under Chapter 130, Acts of 2005, for deployed veterans (including members of the Massachusetts National Guard who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan,) of $1,000.00 and $500.00, depending upon whether deployed overseas or not.
9. Compilation of all veterans of all wars.
10. Established a web site providing information regarding benefits available under state law.
Finally, financial benefits paid to eligible Veterans under Chapter 115 are reimbursable to the Town at 75%.