With Veterans Day upon us and with the holiday season approaching, we owe it to recall the sacrifices made and give thanks to the troops who are serving our country today and the veterans who have served in the past. Joined by the sacrifices made by their families, their bravery and selflessness have made possible the freedom and opportunity that we enjoy.
There are nearly 380,000 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 149 soldiers from Massachusetts have been killed in action, up seven tragic losses from this time last year.
We must remain steadfast in our efforts to support the reintegration into our communities of the thousands of new veterans returning home. 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. Approximately one out of every three homeless individuals in the Commonwealth is a veteran. Also, 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. Holding true to that commitment, the VALOR II legislation, which I was proud to support and which was signed into law last year, expanded benefits and protections for veterans. Our support goes above and beyond federal VA benefits, and includes education benefits, housing and employment assistance, healthcare, and financial assistance when needed.
Further, I am proud to sponsor legislation this year that seeks to build on that commitment to our veterans and their families. S. 669, An Act to expand veterans survivor benefits, would create a Public Service Scholarship Program that would provide scholarships to children and widowed spouses of service men and women killed or missing in action or prisoners of war, as well as the children and spouses of police officers, firefighters, and corrections officers who lose their lives in the performance of their duties. Also, S. 1852, An Act to waive motor vehicle registration fees for disabled veterans, would do just that, removing a small burden for members of our community who have given so much.
Allow me to offer the reminder that there are many ways we can all honor the sacrifices made by our troops and veterans and show our gratitude, especially with the holiday season approaching. 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.
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.