With Veterans Day occurring this week and with the holiday season approaching, we should keep in mind and give thanks to the troops who are serving our country today and the veterans who have served in the past. These are the self-sacrificing men and women who, along with the sacrifices of their families, have made possible the freedom and opportunity that we enjoy.
It feels very appropriate to me that Veterans Day comes shortly after Election Day. It is a reminder that the freedoms we put into practice in our democratic process are protected year-round by brave, selfless patriots.
There are roughly 375,000 veterans living in Massachusetts today. Since September 11, 2001, tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents have returned home from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 142 soldiers from Massachusetts have been killed in action. Those that have served make noble efforts to avoid recognition and to quietly and humbly go about their lives.
With a new generation of veterans returning home, we must remain steadfast in our efforts to support their reintegration into our communities. As George Washington said, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.”
The need to support our veterans remains great. One in every three homeless individuals in the Commonwealth is a veteran. It is estimated that one in three Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from significant Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), the invisible wounds of war. We owe it to our heroic veterans to do all we can for them as they return home.
Massachusetts has long been a national leader in the quality and comprehensiveness of the veterans services that we provide on a state and local level. Our support goes above and beyond federal VA benefits, and includes education benefits, housing and employment assistance, healthcare, and financial assistance when needed.
I’m very proud to have supported the “Veterans’ Allowances, Labor, Outreach, and Recognition” (VALOR II) bill that became law earlier this year. VALOR II ensures that Massachusetts remains the number one state in the country in providing services, benefits, and resources for our veterans and their families.
Some highlights of the bill include: requiring the Division of Professional Licensure to waive application fees for members of the armed forces; establishing a Veterans’ Home Modification Program through Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission for injured returning veterans and their families; codifying and streamlining the property tax exemption for paraplegic veterans and their spouses; increasing penalties for the disturbance of military funerals or services; reducing burdens on students enrolled in postsecondary institutions who are called to active duty; and, taking steps to further crack down on veteran charity fraud.
There are many ways we can all honor the sacrifices made by our troops and veterans and show our gratitude. Hire a veteran in your business. Send a care package to soldiers overseas. Volunteer at a VA soup kitchen this holiday season. Get involved with Helping Our Troops (www.HelpingOurTroopsMA.org), a wonderful local organization founded by two Stoneham veterans, Frank Geary and Walter Kopek.
As we appreciate our families and good fortune this holiday season, let’s remember the words of John F. Kennedy who said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
I welcome your feedback on how we can better support our veterans. Please visit my website at www.SenatorJasonLewis.com to share your thoughts, or contact my State House office anytime at Jason.Lewis@masenate.gov or at (617) 722-1206.