LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR MURRAY ANNOUNCES $11 MILLION INCREASE IN VETERANS SERVICES IN FY13
Lieutenant Governor Murray makes an announcement relative to veterans funding in the Patrick-Murray Administration's proposed Fiscal year 2013 budget. (Photo Credit: Scott Eisen/Governor's Office)
BOSTON – Tuesday, January 24, 2012 – Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray today announced that the Patrick-Murray Administration’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget will include $11.25 million in increased funding to enhance vital services for Massachusetts veterans and their families. Lieutenant Governor Murray made the announcement with Secretary of Veterans’ Services Coleman Nee today at JobNet, Boston’s One Stop Career Center.
“Massachusetts, through the commitment of its taxpayers, law makers, policy makers and advocates, leads the nation in providing services and benefits for veterans, their families and military personnel,” said Lieutenant Governor Murray, chair of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Veterans’ Services. “As a Commonwealth, we have an obligation to provide veterans of all eras with services and this additional state funding will help support critical programs and benefits to meet their needs.”
Despite continued national economic challenges and a challenging state budget, Governor Deval Patrick and Lieutenant Governor Murray have made veterans’ services a priority, proposing to increase resources to the Department of Veterans’ Services by 13 percent over Fiscal Year 2012.
More than 385,000 veterans currently live in Massachusetts, including 37,000 men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. The Patrick-Murray Administration has worked to ensure newly returning veterans, as well as Massachusetts’ aging veteran population, continue to receive quality health, housing and employment services to honor their service.
The Governor’s FY13 budget, which will be filed Wednesday, January 25, will include a range of increased investments in veterans’ services, both through the Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS) and the Soldiers’ Homes in Chelsea and Holyoke.
The $11.25 million in additional FY13 funding will increase:
- Reimbursements to cities and towns for 100% of homeless veterans’ costs: Under the Governor’s budget proposal, DVS would increase its reimbursement rates to cities and towns from 75% to 100% for homeless shelter services for veterans. The FY13 caseload for veterans services & benefits under Chapter 115 is projected to increase by 18% to approximately $46 million, an increase of $6.9 million over FY12 estimated spending, due to enhanced outreach efforts by DVS and the economy’s continued slow rate of recovery. DVS funding supported services for more than 9,100 homeless veterans in FY12. A recent report from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs shows veteran homelessness in Massachusetts down 21% between 2010 and 2011.
- Funding for veterans’ annuities: Currently, DVS prorates each enrollee’s first payment. Under the Governor’s FY13 budget proposal, every veteran or family member would receive a $1,000 benefit upon enrollment in the annuities program beginning in FY13. Caseload for veterans' annuities is projected to increase by 5.5% in the new fiscal year and the associated spending is projected to increase by $1.7 million over FY12 estimated spending.
- Investments in job training initiatives for veterans: The Governor’s budget proposal allocates an additional $500,000 to support collaborations between the Department of Veterans’ Services, the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development and the Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP) to support job training initiatives. This funding will train more than 70 veterans in FY13 through MassMEP’s Mobile Outreach Skills Training program, which recruits and trains unemployed veterans and places them in jobs at the end of a mentorship and retention program.
- Funding to support the Veterans Quit Smoking program: The Governor’s budget proposal will include an additional $700,000 to support the Veterans Quit Smoking program, a partnership between the Department of Veterans’ Services and the Department of Public Health (DPH). This funding will formalize past periodic pilot programs by now allowing veterans and their family members to access free nicotine replacement patches and individualized telephone counseling year round. The Patrick-Murray Administration launched and implemented ‘quit smoking’ programs for veterans in 2008 and again in 2011. Since then, the program has supported more than 4,800 veterans and their family members in their efforts to stop smoking. Data from a recent study published by researchers at George Washington University show that every dollar the Commonwealth spends helping MassHealth members quit smoking saves the Commonwealth $3.12 in expenses for hospitalizations due to acute cardiovascular conditions. With this additional $700,000 investment, DPH projects that 5,000 veterans and military family members would receive smoking cessation support in FY13, while at the same time helping people live healthier lives and reducing healthcare costs.
- Funding support for property tax exemptions for Gold Star Spouses: The Governor’s budget will include an additional $135,000 to support property tax exemptions for Gold Star Spouses. Spouses of servicemen and women who have died while on active duty would receive an extension to the current property tax abatement and would be permanently exempt from property taxes. Currently, Gold Star Spouses are property tax-exempt for five years, with a cap of $2,500 per year in years six and after. Under the Governor’s FY13 budget proposal, the Gold Star property tax exemption would become permanent until the Gold Star Spouse dies or remarries.
- Funding for the Soldiers’ Homes in Chelsea and Holyoke: The Commonwealth’s two Soldiers’ Homes would receive moderate funding increases to ensure that veterans continue to receive quality services and support. The Soldiers’ Homes provide housing, health care and other services to approximately 430 veterans in long-term care facilities, as well as 330 veterans in dormitories. The Governor’s budget will include $1.3 million in additional funding for the Soldiers’ Home, an increase of 3% over FY12 estimated spending.
“Massachusetts proudly sets an example for the nation in providing benefits and services to veterans and their families,” said Secretary Nee. “We partner with federal, state, local and not-for-profit entities to serve veterans and this additional funding would make significant contributions to our efforts to support veterans and their families, particularly those returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“We have seen the Patrick-Murray Administration’s strong leadership on Veterans’ Services directly benefit Veterans here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," said Andrew McCawley, president and CEO of the New England Center for Homeless Veterans. "Homelessness among Veterans has been reduced by more than 20 percent in Massachusetts in just the last year. That one success exemplifies the dedicated focus and resource allocation that distinguishes Massachusetts as a national leader and ensures that needed services are provided to Veterans of all eras.”
Since 2007, Lieutenant Governor Murray has led the Governor’s Advisory Council on Veterans’ Services and today’s announcement builds on his continued work within the veterans’ community and the Administration’s ongoing commitment to supporting Massachusetts veterans and their families. With the unemployment rate disproportionately higher among veterans, today’s announced funding for hiring initiatives is complemented by Lieutenant Governor Murray’s effort to forge partnerships with major trade associations that are encouraging their employers to hire veterans and circulate information on veterans’ benefits. Along with this effort, the Administration launched an Interagency Task Force on Hiring Veterans and directed all executive branch agencies to promote the benefits of hiring veterans.
"The Patrick-Murray Administration has shown tremendous leadership in funding veterans services at the levels they deserve," said Paul Guzzi, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. "With an influx of veterans expected to return home from Afghanistan and Iraq, it is also critical that the business community step up and work together to provide employment opportunities for our servicemen and women. We look forward to working with our business colleagues, Secretary Nee and others in the Administration to help our returning veterans get their feet on the ground with good jobs."
Lieutenant Governor Murray also chairs the Governor’s Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness, and has emphasized increased collaboration across agencies to address issues within the veterans’ community, including homelessness. The Commonwealth recently launched a new federally funded pilot program that will serve 50 chronically homeless veterans in the Boston Metro area.
In November 2011, Governor Patrick signed a supplemental budget that included more than $1 million in funding to support Welcome Home Bonus payments for returning veterans, including increased payments to veterans who serve multiple tours of duty. Service members stationed abroad can now cast electronic ballots for elections; service-disabled veterans are now included within the existing preferences for hiring of veterans for construction and public-works contracts; and a “Medal of Liberty” has been established that will be awarded to the next of kin of any Massachusetts service member killed in action or who dies as a result of wounds received while in action.