For Immediate Release - December 01, 2011

Treasury Announces Broader Application of Veterans Bonuses

Veterans Who Serve Multiple Tours of Duty to Benefit from Enhanced Program

The Treasurer’s office today announced changes to the state’s Welcome Home Bonus program that will increase benefits to many Massachusetts veterans who serve multiple tours of duty overseas.  The changes clarify aspects of the existing law governing the Bonus program to ensure that it reflects equitable treatment to those who serve in the higher-risk theaters of combat of Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The Welcome Home Bonuses express the Commonwealth’s gratitude to those who have worn our country’s uniform, put themselves in harm’s way, and protected our freedoms,” said Treasurer Steven Grossman.  “We need to ensure that this program remains robust and that it reflects the very real threats and sacrifices faced by Massachusetts residents as they serve our interests and values overseas.”

"By enhancing the Welcome Home Bonuses for our veterans, Massachusetts continues to improve critical services for the men and women who have bravely served our country," said Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray, who chairs the Governor's Advisory Council on Veterans' Services.  "We will continue to work with the veteran community, advocates, municipalities and other stakeholders to ensure Massachusetts veterans learn of these changes and gain access to these benefits they have rightfully earned."

For soldiers on a first deployment, the Welcome Home Bonus program offers a $1000 payment after a tour of service in Iraq or Afghanistan and a $500 payment after at least six months of service in any other foreign or domestic location.  However, the law governing the Bonus program dictated that subsequent tours of duty would be awarded with half of those amounts, leading some veterans to qualify for unequal payments even when they served in the higher-risk theaters of Iraq or Afghanistan.  For example, a tour of duty in Germany and a subsequent tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan would qualify a veteran for only $1,000 ($500 + $500), while if those tours were reversed, the same veteran would qualify for $1,250 ($1000 + $250).

Following the legislative action requested by Treasurer Grossman to clarify the Welcome Home Bonus law, veterans now automatically qualify for the $1000 Bonus for their first tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, regardless of where they were deployed in prior service.  These same veterans now also qualify for a $500 Bonus for a subsequent tour if it is their first tour outside of the two hotspot countries.  Because of the legislative correction, a veteran would now qualify for $1,500 in Bonus payments for one tour in Germany and one tour in Iraq or Afghanistan, regardless of the sequence of service.

"The Massachusetts Welcome Home Bonus reflects the Commonwealth's strong commitment to our service members and their families," said Secretary of Veterans' Services Coleman Nee.  "This change in regulations will provide those who have served in combat theaters the ability to receive a full bonus payment that is reflective of their total service.  I applaud the Patrick-Murray Administration and Treasurer Steve Grossman for this effort and for their unyielding support of our veterans and active military."

Grossman noted that the legislative changes will be retroactive back to the Welcome Home Bonus program’s inception in 2006 and that he is directing his staff to review past records and notify veterans who are now eligible for additional awards for past service.

The state has paid over $19 million in Welcome Home Bonuses since 2006.  Grossman said that the demands on the program will likely increase in the near future with President Obama’s goal of withdrawing combat troops from Iraq.  Earlier this month, the Legislature and Governor Patrick approved an additional $700,000 to fund the anticipated costs associated with this troop drawdown.

"This small clarification can make a big difference to our returning veterans," said Representative James E. Vallee, House Chairman of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. "The Welcome Home Bonus program is a way for us to say 'Thank you' to those who have done so much for us. I look forward to seeing our Massachusetts veterans continue to take advantage of the benefits they've earned."

“I am pleased that we took the opportunity to put additional funding in place for the Commonwealth’s service men and women, particularly in light of the President’s announcement of troop withdrawals,” said House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading).  “These brave soldiers are returning to a struggling economy and a bleak job market. By transitioning $700,000 from the state’s anticipated increase in revenue, we will ensure a smoother transition home for the Bay State’s bravest.”

In addition to administering the Welcome Home Bonus program, the Treasury recently worked with the Department of Veteran Services to cross-reference the names of veterans with the Commonwealth’s unclaimed property database.  This effort resulted in over 2,300 Massachusetts veterans being notified that they had property such as forgotten bank accounts, uncashed checks, insurance policies, stocks, and dividend payments for which they could file a claim.  

###