Proposal would ease military transition to civilian life

  • State Sen. John C. Velis FILE PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 4/23/2021 3:20:34 PM

State Sen. John C. Velis has filed a bill that would help moving military families transition easier into Massachusetts by cutting through some bureaucracy.

The legislation filed this session by the Westfield Democrat would speed up the state professional licensing process, allow children moving into the state to enroll in school before the move and let college students keep in-state tuition.

“In Massachusetts, we pride ourselves on doing more for our veterans than any other state, and that’s a reputation we rightly deserve,” said Velis, who represents the 2nd Hampden and Hampshire District. “But I have long suspected where there is absolutely room for improvement here in the commonwealth as it relates to taking care of these service members’ families, and that’s really what I’m trying to get after with this bill.”

The bill would require state agencies to accept or reject an application for transfer or reciprocity of a professional license within 30 days of application, streamlining the process of finding a new job. Currently, lengthy application processes faced by military spouses intending to continue their careers can make it difficult and discourage them from continuing to work in their chosen field.

Under the bill, students in military families who move to Massachusetts will be able to enroll and register for school virtually. Military children typically have to provide documents proving their residency within the public school district boundaries before they enroll, which sometimes prevents them from attending class right away. Virtual enrollment would allow a child to attend school immediately after their family moves to the state.

To support service members’ families and children, the bill would create a “Purple Star Campus” designation for schools with services tailored to military families. A program sponsored by the Military Child Education Coalition, a national non-profit organization, the Purple Star Campus designation is earned by schools that meet specified standards to support military families, including website resources for students and parents, along with designated military family staff contacts. The coalition recommends that all states across the U.S. adopt similar programs.

The legislation also would require colleges and universities to maintain the “in-state” residency designation for students even if their military family or sponsor moves out of Massachusetts. The students would still qualify for in-state tuition at colleges or universities as long as they remain continuously enrolled.

“I’m absolutely not going to let this session go by without passing some good legislation to take care of our veterans and service members’ family members and kids,” Velis said. “To the extent Massachusetts needs improvements, it’s the families of our service members and veterans.”

Velis said developing ways to help female veterans is a top priority. When the Senate comes up with its new budget in May, Velis said he is going to create a commission or a task force to study issues female veterans face.

Women and racial and ethnic minorities remain underrepresented in parts of the U.S. military, but in 2020, females represented 16% of the enlisted forces and 19% of the officer corps, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Some of the things that we’re coming to understand are that both male and female veterans respond differently to their service, whether it’s exposure to trauma, whether it’s PTSD … there are just differences,” Velis said. “We need to do our best to find out what the differences are so we can do everything to have those services available.”

Kami Rieck writes for the Gazette from the Boston University Statehouse Program.


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