By Bob Katz

Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill that would expand benefits and increase access to a range of services for veterans, active-duty military personnel and their families. The ceremonial signing took place at the Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea.

Provisions include reducing from five years to two years the residency period required for some veterans’ property tax exemptions; increasing coverage for funeral expenses for indigent veterans from $2,000 to $4,000; allowing parents or surviving guardians of veterans who died in service to receive a real estate credit on property beginning January 1, 2019; allowing cities and towns to designate a reserved parking space for veterans at city and town halls; establishing a Massachusetts Veterans and Warriors Agriculture Program to enhance education, training, employment, income, productivity and retention of veterans working in or aspiring to work in the field of agriculture;

Other provisions increase veterans’ local property tax work-off program from $1,000 to $1,500; require the Department of Veterans’ Services to maintain and publish a list of law firms and organizations that provide free legal representation for veterans; establish a special commission to study the cost and feasibility of exempting all costs to veterans of attending public universities in Massachusetts; and establish a study about veterans and military members suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues related to their military service and their needs in the criminal justice system.

Supporters say the state should provide these additional benefits and opportunities to the thousands of Bay State veterans who have served or are still serving our nation. They note that one in three homeless people in the nation are veterans. They point out that one in five Massachusetts veterans suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and 11 percent suffer traumatic brain injuries.

“This omnibus veterans’ legislation assists veterans and their families with employment protections, tax exemptions, burial expenses, court programs, medical care, and also continues to recognize those who serve and who have served,” said Sen. Mike Rush, (D-Boston), the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs. “We want to ensure that Massachusetts remains number one in the nation in providing for our veterans. This legislation goes a long way in accomplishing this goal.”

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