House Passes Landmark Veterans Legislation

MAY 22, 2024

The Massachusetts House of Representatives today passed H.4661, An Act honoring, empowering, and recognizing our servicemembers and veterans (the HERO Act) that honors veterans in Massachusetts by broadening the definition of a veteran, increasing tax credits and state benefits that they are eligible for, and modernizing the services that they rely on.

“The HERO Act addresses critical quality of life issues our veterans face every day,” Representative Mike Connolly said. "From improving services to increasing incentives to hire veterans, we are ensuring state government is adequately supporting those that have risked their lives in the armed forces."

The bill passed today broadens the definition of “veteran” for the purposes of expanding veteran benefits eligibility, and to better align it with federal law. This new definition includes any person that served on active duty for at least 90 days, and whose last discharge was under conditions other than dishonorable; any person that served on active duty, in the National Guard or as a reservist, including solely for training purposes and was awarded a service-connected disability, or died in such service; and any person determined to be a veteran according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans who are current Massachusetts residents will be eligible for benefits, regardless of how long they have resided here.

The HERO Act includes the following changes to veteran benefits:

  • Medical assistance, dental and vision benefits: requires the Secretary of the Executive Office of Veterans Services (EOVS) to provide a medical assistance benefit, behavioral health assistance benefit, and dental benefit beyond other benefits available to veterans, including medical and dental visits, behavioral health assessments, procedures, prescriptions, and costs.
  • Benefits for dependents of veterans: updates the definition of “dependent” to make it gender neutral and include children over the age of 18 that meet the criteria for emancipation. It also expands the pool of coverage by extending benefits to dependents who are mentally or physically unable to support themselves after reaching the age of 23. This section aligns the residential eligibility requirements of the dependent of a veteran with residential eligibility requirements of the veteran, granting benefits to the dependent of a veteran that has resided in Massachusetts for one day prior to applying for benefits.
  • Veteran benefits income eligibility: clarifies that an increase to an otherwise eligible veteran’s income due to a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) made to social security, supplemental security income, or social security disability insurance would not render the recipient ineligible for benefits in the year the adjustment was issued.
  • Annuity for blind, paraplegic or veterans with disabilities: starting July 1, 2024, increases from $2,000 to $2,250 the annuity for blind, paraplegic, or veterans with disabilities. Starting July 1, 2025, increases from $2,250 to $2,500 the annuity for blind, paraplegic, or veterans with disabilities.
  • Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemeteries: codifies the authority of the recently created EOVS to operate, maintain and expand the Massachusetts Veterans Memorial Cemeteries in Agawam and Winchendon, and to add new locations, subject to the availability of funds, to meet the needs of veterans and their dependents.
  • Reinstatement of benefits by Veterans Equality Review Board: requires the Veterans Equality Review Board (VERB) to ensure that veterans discharged due to sex, race, color, religious creed, national origin, age, genetic information, ancestry, marital status, disability, or any U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs category eligible for upgrade, receive state-based benefits.
  • Workplace benefits and services poster: the bill requires the Secretary of EOVS, with the Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, to create and distribute a notice including information regarding the services and resources available to veterans to be posted in the workplace and provided on the employees first day by employers in Massachusetts with more than 50 full-time employees.

The HERO Act includes the following tax initiatives:

  • Veterans’ property tax abatement and exemptions: creates two local options, a) municipalities may annually increase local property tax abatements for veterans in an amount equal to the increase in cost of living determined by the Consumer Price Index for the year and b) municipalities may offer an additional exemption to veterans that qualify for local property tax exemptions up to 100 percent of the amount of the exemption for which veteran qualifies.
  • Employer tax credit for hiring veterans: increases from $2,000 to $2,500 the amount of a tax credit for each qualified veteran hired by an employer and for subsequent years of continued employment of each veteran. This applies for taxable year 2024.
  • Motor Vehicle Sales Tax exemption: adds veterans with disabilities with a Purple Heart recipient plate to those allowed a sales tax exemption for the purchase of a motor vehicle for personal use.

The HERO Act also includes the following reforms:

  • Recognition day for sacrifice of Gold Star families: annually requires the Governor to issue a proclamation on Memorial Day in recognition of the sacrifices of Gold Star families, and requires certain landmarks and bridges be illuminated in gold on Memorial Day including the Fore River Bridge, Zakim Bridge, and Longfellow Bridge.
  • Flag requirements: requires flags to be flown at half-staff at public buildings and military installations when a military member is killed in active duty, or when the remains of a prisoner of war or a military member that went missing in action return home to Massachusetts, and annually on national POW/MIA day.
  • Creditable service for retirement: requires notice to veterans entitled to purchase creditable service for active time in the Armed Services.
  • Veterans’ license plates: maintains authorization for the Registrar of Motor Vehicles (RMV) to furnish veterans, including prisoners of war and recipients of certain medals, with distinctive license plates and emblems indicating the branch of service, award received, or disability status. The distinctive plates and emblems must be issued without a fee other than the established registration fee for private passenger motor vehicles and motorcycles
  • DCF 51A reports and notice to military authorities: requires the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to collect information regarding the military status of parents, guardians, and caregivers during an investigation for the abuse and neglect of a child, and provide notice to the appropriate military authorities of allegations of abuse and neglect of a child involving military personnel. Requires the Commissioner of DCF to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the federal Family Advocacy Program (FAP) at military installations in Massachusetts related to sharing information regarding investigations.
  • Alternative therapies for mental health treatments: requires EOVS, in coordination with the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), to convene a working group to study and make recommendations on the use of psychedelics as an alternative therapy for mental health treatments for veterans.
  • EMT training waiver for veterans: authorizes the Department of Public Health (DPH) to issue a waiver for veterans applying for an emergency medical technician (EMT) certification in Massachusetts if it is determined by DPH that the education and training requirements for veterans and military medics of the US Armed Forces are sufficiently comparable to the requirements for EMTs in Massachusetts.

Having passed the House of Representatives 156-0, the bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration. Rep. Connolly would like to thank Speaker Mariano, and Chairs Michlewitz and Cassidy for bringing this bill forward.