Steven Connor of Northampton to urge legislators for support on veterans’ service officers certification
A push to require all veterans’ service officers in the state to undergo training and earn certification is expected to get a boost Wednesday, as dozens of veterans and those who represent them convene for a special legislative day on Beacon Hill.
Northampton’s Steven J. Connor, in a speech at the event sponsored by House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, is expected to urge legislators to support a soon-to-be-filed bill that would require veterans’ service officers to be trained, tested and certified before they begin helping veterans.
This way, veterans in every community will know they are getting the best resources available, said Connor, director of Central Hampshire Veterans Services, a Northampton agency that provides veterans’ services to 10 Hampshire County communities. He is also the current president of the Massachusetts Veterans’ Officers Association Inc.
“Our attempt is to make sure that if you’re a veteran, getting services shouldn’t matter which town you live in,” Connor said. “We want to make sure every veterans’ service officer in the state is trained.”
The idea has the support of John O’Connor, the veterans’ agent for Easthampton, South Hadley and Granby.
“It’s a good idea, especially for the agents responsible for the smaller towns,” O’Connor said. “In those cases, an agent might not have all the knowledge they need.”
Connor said the veterans’ service officers need to stay abreast of laws, programs and other services available to veterans. They also need to have a solid knowledge base of resources, whether those resources are provided by the office in their communities or elsewhere in the state.
“We may not know everything here (in Northampton), but we need to know where to get resources if we don’t know,” Connor said.
Under law, each community in Massachusetts is required to have a veterans’ service officer.
The Massachusetts Veterans’ Service Officers Association has lobbied for some time for stricter regulations of veterans’ agents. The idea that gained a foothold last year when the Legislature approved the Valor Act to improve financial, housing and education benefits for veterans.
Part of that legislation required formation of a special commission to assess the certification process for veterans’ service officers and develop an improved training program. Connor, a member of that commission, said it is currently drafting legislation that will be filed this month by Sen. Michael F. Rush, who heads the commission and is chairman of the Joint Committee on Veteran and Federal Affairs.
The version its members craft will likely be similar to a bill filed two years ago by Reps. Harold P. Naughton Jr., D-Clinton, and Sarah K. Peake, D-Provincetown. That bill stated that veterans’ service officers and agents shall be trained and certified within 12 months of appointment.
Specifically, officers must be appointed and pass a test that shows they have the skills necessary to represent veterans in a variety of areas. These include knowledge of Chapter 115, a needs-based program that offers financial and medical assistance for veterans and their dependents; federal and local benefits including employment, education, health care, retirement and other resources; and alternate resources including those which are partially or wholly subsidized by the federal government, such as Medicaid.
In addition to highlighting the certification legislation, Connor said DeLeo’s event gives him and others a chance to meet with legislators on a bevy of veterans’ issues.
He said western Massachusetts is expected to send a contingent of about 15 to 20 veteran service officers and leaders of veterans’ organizations to join with other groups from across the state.