SECTION 1. To provide for benefits for certain veterans and service members in fiscal year 2016, the sums set forth in section 2 are hereby appropriated from the General Fund for the several purposes and subject to the conditions specified in this act and subject to laws regulating the disbursement of public funds; provided, however, that notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, appropriations made herein shall not revert and shall be available for expenditure until June 30, 2017. The sums appropriated in this act shall be in addition to any amounts previously appropriated and made available for these purposes.
EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
Department of Veterans’ Services
1410-0010 For costs associated with start-up and operating costs of the office of State Veterans’ Homes and Housing ……………………………………………………. $318,240
SECTION 3. Said chapter 6 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out section 71 and inserting in place thereof the following section:-
Section 71. Said board of trustees shall have the management and control of said home and all property, real and personal, of the commonwealth and occupied or used by said home. In the management and control of said home as aforesaid, said board of trustees shall (1) adopt, issue and promulgate reasonable rules and regulations governing outpatient treatment at, admission to, and hospitalization in, said home, and (2) appoint a superintendent. The superintendent shall be the administrative head of the home. He shall, subject to the approval of the trustees, appoint and may remove a medical director, a treasurer, and assistant treasurer; such treasurer and assistant treasurer shall give bond for the faithful performance of their duties. The provisions of section forty-nine of chapter thirty-one shall apply to the appointment of such treasurer and assistant treasurer. The superintendent shall also appoint and may remove such other persons as he deems necessary for the proper and efficient operation of the facilities of the home. The medical director shall have responsibility for the medical, surgical, and outpatient facilities and shall make recommendations to the superintendent on the appointments of all physicians, nurses, and other medical staff. In addition to the foregoing, said board of trustees shall have the same powers and perform the same duties as are vested and imposed in the trustees of state hospitals under the provisions of sections fourteen A and fourteen C of chapter nineteen, so far as applicable.
SECTION 4. Section 16 of chapter 15A of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out paragraph 9 and inserting in place thereof the following paragraph:-
There shall be a Public Service Scholarship Program to provide scholarships to children and widowed spouses of Massachusetts police officers, firefighters and correction officers, who are killed or died from injuries received while in the performance of duties including authorized training duty; to children of prisoners of war or military or service persons missing in action whose wartime service is credited to the commonwealth; and to the children of veterans whose service was credited to the commonwealth and who were killed in action or otherwise died as a result of such service. Such scholarships shall be awarded by the council pursuant to its guidelines established to govern this program and shall go to those persons referenced above who are admitted to an institution of higher education in the commonwealth to pursue undergraduate studies. The guidelines shall include, but not be limited to, a waiver of mandatory fees.
SECTION 5. Section 26 of chapter 31 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting after the words “congressional medal of honor”, in line 25, the following words:- , distinguished service medal, or silver star medal
SECTION 6. Section 59 of chapter 33 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out the words “annual training under section 60”, in line 5, and inserting in place thereof the following words:- service in the uniformed services.
SECTION 7. . Said section 59 of said chapter 33, is hereby further amended by striking out subsection (d) and inserting in place thereof the following subsections:-
(d) An employee of the commonwealth in a reserve component of the armed forces of the United States ordered to service for more than 30 consecutive days shall be paid the regular base salary as a public employee for each pay period of such military leave of absence, reduced by any amount received either from the United States or the commonwealth as base pay for military service performed during the same pay period, and shall not lose any seniority or any accrued vacation leave, sick leave, personal leave, compensation time or earned overtime.
(e) An employee of a county, city or town within the commonwealth which, by vote of its county commissioners or city council or of its inhabitants at a town meeting, accepts this section, or has accepted similar provisions of earlier laws, shall be entitled to the benefits and protections of this section or the benefits of the accepted earlier law.
(f) For the purposes of this section, uniformed services shall have the same meaning as defined in section 13 of this chapter.
SECTION 8. Section 5 of chapter 59 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out clause twenty-second D and inserting in place thereof the following clause:-
Twenty-second D, Real estate to the full amount of the taxable valuation of real property of the surviving spouses of soldiers and sailors, members of the National Guard and veterans who, during active duty service, suffered an injury or disease documented by the United States Department of Veterans affairs or a branch of the armed forces, which was a proximate cause of their death, or who are missing in action with a presumptive finding of death, as a result of active duty service as members of the armed forces of the United States; provided that real estate is occupied by the surviving spouse as a domicile, and if the surviving spouse has been domiciled in the commonwealth for 5 consecutive years next before the date for filing for exemption under this clause or the soldier or sailor, member of the National Guard or veteran was domiciled in Massachusetts for at least 6 months before entering service.
Such exemption shall be available until such time that the surviving spouse dies or remarries.
No real estate shall be so exempt which has been conveyed to the surviving spouse to evade taxation. The amount of the exemption shall be borne by the commonwealth, and the state treasurer shall annually reimburse the city or town for the amount of the tax which otherwise would have been collected for this exemption.
Such exemption shall be available to spouses of soldiers and sailors, members of the National Guard and veterans who died before or after the effective date of this legislation but shall apply only to taxes being assessed on or after July 1, 2016.
SECTION 9. Clause twenty-second F of subsection (g) of section 5 of chapter 59 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting in line 866 after the word “paraplegics” the following words:- or have a disability rating of one hundred per cent for service-connected blindness
SECTION 10. Section 3 of chapter 115 of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out, in line 2, the words “, annually in April,” and inserting after the word “agent” in line 2, the following words:- who shall serve for a term of up to three years and be eligible for reappointment.
SECTION 11. Chapter 115A of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by inserting the following section:-
Section 12. (a) There is hereby established within the department of veterans’ services an office of state veterans’ homes and housing hereinafter referred to as the office. The office shall serve as the principal agency for providing oversight of the Soldiers' Home in Massachusetts and the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke and serve as an advisor to the commissioner of veteran’s services on matters of veterans housing. Subject to appropriation, the office shall employ an executive director to carry out these duties and responsibilities. The position of executive director of the office shall be classified under section 45 of chapter 30. Subject to appropriation, the executive director may, with the approval of the commissioner of veterans’ services, appoint and remove any employees necessary to carry out the duties of the office. Unless otherwise provided by law, all appointments and removals shall be made under chapter 31. The executive director shall be appointed by the commissioner of veterans’ services. The executive director shall be the executive head of state veterans’ homes and shall be responsible for coordinated implementation and enforcement of laws, regulations and policies relative to the state’s veterans’ homes. The office shall also investigate and make recommendations on best practices to provide housing for veterans in the commonwealth. The executive director shall meet with board of trustees of the Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts and the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke jointly at least twice a year. The executive director shall have at least 5 years of management and healthcare experience.
(b) The office shall annually, not later than November 1, report to the legislature on the state of the soldiers’ homes. The report shall include findings relative to the following: (1) the quality of care provided at the homes; (2) the financial status of the homes; (3) the uniformity of programs at the homes; (4) capital needs of the homes; and (5) the status of federal department of veteran affairs accreditation, the efforts needed to maintain compliance and the efforts needed to become fully compliant with the federal department of veterans affairs standards at each soldiers’ home. The report shall also include an analysis of activities of the office, including a summary of activities undertaken to implement uniform intake policies and procedures, patient and resident eligibility requirements, and rate-setting functions between both the Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts and the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke. The office shall submit said report annually to the governor, the president of the senate, the speaker of the house, house and senate clerks, the house and senate committees on ways and means, the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs, the joint committee on public health, and the joint committee on housing.
SECTION 12. The fifth paragraph of section 32 of chapter 121B of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out the second sentence and inserting in place thereof the following sentence:- In determining the net income for the purpose of computing the rent of a totally unemployable disabled veteran, a housing authority shall exclude amounts of disability compensation paid by the United States government for disability occurring in connection with military service in excess of eighteen hundred dollars; provided, that such authorization shall apply only in state-aided projects as provided in sections thirty-five and Thirty-six.
SECTION 13. Chapter 62 of the acts of 2014 is hereby amended by striking section 28 and inserting in place thereof the following section:-
Section 28. (a) There is hereby established the Massachusetts Post-Deployment Commission to make recommendations regarding the implementation of a program in Massachusetts to support service members transitioning to civilian life after deployment.
(b) The department of veterans’ services shall convene a commission consisting of 17 members appointed by the governor of which 2 of whom shall be members of Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Home Base Program; 2 of whom shall be veteran service officers as defined by paragraph 5 section 1 of chapter 115 of the General Laws; 2 of whom shall be members of the Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention; 2 of whom shall be members of the Massachusetts Psychological Association; and 1 of whom shall be a member of the board of directors of the Massachusetts Association of Realtors. 1 whom shall be the president of Soldier On, or a designee.
(c) The secretary of veterans’ services shall be the chair of the commission. The members appointed by commission shall elect a vice chair at their first meeting.
(d) The commission shall perform and make recommendations pertaining on how best to operationalize and quantify the following duties which may include, but shall not be limited to: (i) examining and evaluating the effectiveness of veterans’ suicide prevention policies; (ii) examining and evaluating the effectiveness of resilience training for veterans’ personnel; (iii) developing recommendations on ways in which veterans’ support service needs may be promptly assessed upon return from deployment; (iv) developing recommendations for methods by which the commonwealth may identify, evaluate and refer service members returning to civilian life post-deployment for assistance with education, employment, healthcare, housing and other services; (v) providing recommendations for improving communication between mental health support services and veterans who may benefit from such services; (vi) developing recommendations for providing mental health counseling services to combat the effects of post-traumatic stress injuries for post-deployment veterans; (1) barriers prohibiting veterans from receiving coverage upon their residency in the commonwealth; (2) tools to educate active duty members who intend to reside in the commonwealth on their ability to acquire health care coverage in the commonwealth; (3) the resources available to military members to help afford coverage upon discharge; (4) identifying the needs of women veterans relative to issues including, but not limited to, compensation, rehabilitation, outreach, health care, education and other issues facing women veterans in the community. The council may hold public hearings to assist in the collection and evaluation of data and testimony.
(e) The commission shall submit its findings and recommendations, including a detailed re-entry program plan relative to service members who return to civilian life after deployment, together with recommendations for legislation to carry out those recommendations into effect by filing the same with the house and senate clerks, the house and senate committees on ways and means, the joint committee on veterans and federal affairs not later than December 31, 2017.
SECTION 14. Section 32 of chapter 62 of the acts of 2014 is hereby amended in subsection (b) by striking out the figure “16” inserting in place thereof the figure “17”; and in said subsection by inserting at the end thereof the words:- ; and the president of Soldier On, or a designee.
SECTION 15. Said section 32 of chapter 62 of the acts of 2014 is hereby amended in subsection (d) by striking out the words “April 30, 2015” inserting in place thereof the following words:- January 30, 2018
SECTION 16. Section 32 of chapter 121B of the General Laws, as so appearing, is hereby amended in the third paragraph by inserting at the end thereof the following sentence:-
Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, in communities where low income family housing developed pursuant to Chapter 200 of the Acts of 1948 does not exist, preference in admission shall be given to veterans for all scattered site housing units acquired by a local housing authority pursuant to Chapter 705 of the Acts of 1966.
SECTION 17. (a) Section 39 of said chapter 121B, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out the sixth paragraph and inserting in place thereof the following paragraph:-
Among persons who are eligible and qualified for housing pursuant to this section, a preference shall be given to veterans.
SECTION 18. Section 40 of said chapter 121B, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out subsection (d) and inserting in place thereof the following subsection:-
(d) In all housing for elderly persons of low income and handicapped persons of low income there shall be a preference in admission for eligible and qualified applicants who are veterans.
SECTION 19. Section 4 of chapter 151B of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2012 Official Edition, is hereby amended by striking out, in line 5, the words "or ancestry" and inserting in place thereof the following words:- ancestry or status as a veteran.
SECTION 20. Section 17 of chapter 260 of the acts of 2006 is hereby repealed.
SECTION 21. Section 29 of chapter 62 of the acts of 2014 is hereby repealed.
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