Senator Lewis at the Stoneham Field of Honor

Senator Lewis and the Massachusetts Senate Pass HERO Act to Support Veterans

BOSTON—State Senator Jason Lewis and his colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed legislation to boost benefits, modernize services, and promote inclusivity for veterans. The bill would support hundreds of thousands of individuals across the state who have served in the United States military, including nearly 30,000 women veterans and thousands of LGBTQ+ veterans. 

An Act Honoring, Empowering and Recognizing Our Servicemembers and Veterans, referred to as the HERO Act, would increase benefits for disabled veterans, bolster support for businesses that hire veterans, update the definition of a veteran, expand the scope of the Veterans Equality Review Board, codify medical and dental benefits, and more.

“Massachusetts has a strong record of supporting our nation’s veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much for us,” said State Senator Jason Lewis. “The HERO Act builds on previous legislation to ensure that we are doing as much as possible to meet our commitment to supporting those who have put the most on the line to defend our freedoms.”

Highlights of the HERO Act include:

(1) Veteran Benefits Expansion

  • Expands access to Behavioral Health Treatment: Allows veterans to be reimbursed for visits to outpatient behavioral health providers. 
  • Increases the Disabled Veteran Annuity: Increases the annual annuity for veterans with a 100% service-connected disability, surviving spouses, or Gold Star Parents from $2,000 to $2,500. 
  • Increases the Vet-Hire Tax Credit: Increases to $2,500 a tax credit for small businesses hiring chronically unemployed or low-income veterans. 
  • Increases access to the Active-Duty Buyback program: Lengthens the time frame for veterans in public service to participate in the Active-Duty Service Buyback program and allows retroactive participation for veterans who missed the buyback opportunity.
  • Prevents the “COLA Cliff”: Ensures that a cost-of-living adjustment in Social Security benefits will not affect veterans’ eligibility for Chapter 115 benefits in the middle of the state fiscal year. ? 
  • Increases Local Flexibility for Veterans Property Tax Exemptions: Creates two separate local options. The first allows municipalities to double the veteran property tax exemption without doubling all other exemption clauses.?The second ties the annual property tax abatement amount to inflation, allowing exempted property tax amounts to increase with inflation. 

(2) Commitment to Inclusivity and Greater Representation 

  • Broadens the Chapter 115 Definition of Veteran: Aligns the state Chapter 115 program definition of a veteran with the United States Department of Veteran Affairs definition. This change allows more veterans to be eligible for annuity, Chapter 115 benefits, access to the Massachusetts Veterans Homes, and other state-provided benefits.
  • Expands the Scope of the Veterans Equality Review Board (VERB): Expands the scope of the Board beyond ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ discharges to include discharges related to Military Sexual Trauma, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, mental health conditions, or HIV discharges.? 
  • Expands the definition of a veteran dependent: Expands the Chapter 115 definition of “dependent” to support more dependents based on the Family Court definition. 

(3) Modernization of Veterans Services

  • Codifies Dental Assistance Benefits: Ensures veterans receive essential dental care by codifying dental benefits for Chapter 115 recipients. 
  • Codifies Medical Assistance Benefits: Provides consistent care to veterans by codifying medical assistance benefits.   
  • Initiates a Study on the Use of Alternative Therapies for Veteran Mental Health Disorders: Establishes a working group to study the potential benefits of alternative therapies, such as psilocybin, in treating veterans suffering from mental health disorders.

A Conference Committee will now be appointed to reconcile differences between the versions of the HERO Act passed by the Senate and House of Representatives, before being sent to Governor Healey for her signature.