Rep. Joe McGonagle, along with his colleagues in the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed comprehensive legislation addressing the Commonwealth’s most immediate needs in the veteran community and making necessary updates to service member quality-of-life issues and acknowledgements of our military branches and individual service, including supporting military families who relocate to the Commonwealth with expedited licensure and school enrollment, creating education awareness programs and establishing the Massachusetts Medal of Fidelity.
“After our veterans have given so much to us, it is imperative that we take care of them and their families,” said McGonagle. “Military families make many sacrifices so if we can repay them in anyway, we must. Many of these new practices are really simple and just make sense, but have been overlooked for years. As the son of a Lieutenant Colonel, I understand much of this firsthand and am grateful we have the opportunity to push the wellbeing of our veterans and their loved ones forward. I am especially grateful to Speaker Mariano and Chair McMurtry for their advocacy on this issue.”
“Our veterans represent the best and bravest among us, and are deserving of unwavering support from those in public office,” said House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano (D-Quincy). “While we can never truly repay those who have served this country, the legislation passed today is another example of the House’s commitment to ensuring that veterans in Massachusetts, and their families, have access to the services and educational opportunities that they deserve. I want to thank Chairman Paul McMurtry, as well as all my colleagues in the House, for their hard work, and for prioritizing the well being and success of the Commonwealth’s veterans.”
Highlights of the legislation include:
Military spouse licensure portability: requires the Division of Occupational Licensure, the Department of Public Health, and Massachusetts Boards of Registration to accept a military spouse’s application for licensure or notify them of what criteria they were not able to meet within 30 days of the application.
Expedited military spouse teacher licenses: establishes a military spouse certificate to be issued by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner to military spouse teachers that meet certain requirements.
School enrollment for military children: allows military families to register and enroll in a school district when a service member first receives their relocation order, waiving the proof of residency requirement at the time of registration. This provision also allows military children who are transferring mid-semester to enroll in and attend one of the Commonwealth’s virtual schools.
Purple Star campus designation: establishes the Purple Star Campus Program, to be administered by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, to designate schools that demonstrate a commitment to students and families of service members.
In-state tuition continuity for military-connected college students: ensures that a member of the military stationed in the Commonwealth, their spouse, or their children are deemed an in-state resident after their acceptance at one of the state’s higher education institutions.
Civilian licensure and certification information: directs the Commissioner of Veterans’ Services to make information on civilian licensure and certification opportunities available to service members and veterans, and provide information on military education and skills to relevant agencies.
Open Burn Pit Registry:
• Directs the Commissioner of the Department of Public Health (DPH), in consultation with the Commissioner of the Department of Veterans’ Services and the Adjutant General of the National Guard, to develop educational materials and an informational pamphlet on the health impacts of open burn pits during overseas deployment and information on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry to be distributed to health care providers, veterans’ service offices and organizations, and service members and veterans.
• Directs the Commissioner of the Department of Veterans’ Services, in consultation with the Commissioner of DPH and the Adjutant General, to contact all members of the Armed Forces, National Guard and veterans to register for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry.
• Requires the Adjutant General to request that the periodic health assessment for National Guard members determine whether the member is eligible to participate in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry and if eligible, the member register for the Registry.
Massachusetts National Guard family education program: establishes a Massachusetts National Guard Family Education Program to allow National Guard members to transfer their unused education benefits under the National Guard Education Assistance Program to their dependents.
Slot machines at veterans’ organizations: allows the Gaming Commission to issue limited slot machine licenses to veterans’ organizations.
Founding anniversaries of U.S. Armed Forces: requires the Governor to set aside the founding date anniversaries of the U.S. Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Massachusetts National Guard.
Medal of Fidelity: establishes the Massachusetts Medal of Fidelity to be presented to the next of kin of a service member or veteran who died as a result of service-connected post-traumatic stress disorder, a service-connected condition resulting from a traumatic brain injury, or a service-connected disease, condition or injury related to exposure to harmful toxin, herbicides, agents or materials.
Deborah Sampson Memorial Commission: Establishes a commission to determine a location and create a memorial for Deborah Sampson, a Massachusetts resident who disguised herself as a man in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.
Funeral and burial benefits: requires funeral directors and their staffs to provide information on burial and funeral benefits for veterans.
“An Act relative to military spouse-licensure portability, education and enrollment of dependents” (H.4978) passed the House of Representatives 154-0 after a similar version of this legislation passed in the Massachusetts State Senate. The legislation moves back to the Senate for further consideration.
Earlier this year, the House passed legislation establishing additional protections for veterans and mandating increased accountability for management of veterans’ homes. “An Act relative to the governance, structure and care of veterans at the Commonwealth veterans’ homes” is currently in conference committee negotiations. In May 2021, the House approved a $600 million bond authorization — with $400 million for the construction of an updated Holyoke Veterans’ Home facility and $200 million to increase geographic equity and accessibility for veterans not primarily served by the veterans’ Homes in Chelsea or Holyoke.