Local delegation pitches veterans legislation

  • Steve Connor is director of the Central Hampshire Veterans’ Services GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/10/2019 11:32:16 PM

NORTHAMPTON — When veterans come home and have a disability and are unable to work, Steven Connor, director of the Central Hampshire Veterans’ Services, helps them get financial assistance if they qualify for it.

“I’ve had veterans come home and they have families and they aren’t able to work,” Connor said.

Municipalities pay the up-front cost of veterans’ benefits, and in most cases, the state reimburses 75 percent of the money, Connor said.

But the reimbursement doesn’t happen quickly. “It takes a whole year for that money to come across,” Connor said.

That could change. A bill filed early this year by Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, would tweak the law and require the state to reimburse municipalities within six months. Connor suggested the idea for the legislation to Comerford and it’s currently in the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

The reimbursement delay can be particularly difficult for small towns, Connor and Comerford both said.

“The state has been lagging in its reimbursements,” Comerford said. “For some cities and towns that don’t have a good cash flow, this can be a lot of money.”

Connor pointed to Middlefield, an area where he assists veterans, as an example. As of the 2010 census, 521 people lived there. “If they get somebody who needs a big chunk of money,” he said, “that’s going to be hard for them.”

The same goes for other smaller towns, such as Williamsburg and Pelham, he said. “They all struggle with the same thing. They want to support their veterans but it’s hard budgetarily if it takes a year to get their money back.”

Comerford is also pushing a related bill she filed, “An Act to extend veterans retirement buyback opportunities,” which would extend the years of military service that veterans can buy back in the state retirement system. Currently, veterans who have done public sector work are able to buy back up to four years of military service to their total years of public service to count toward retirement benefits. For each year veterans choose to buy, they pay 10 percent of the salary they had when they joined the retirement system.

Under the new legislation, veterans would be able to purchase up to 10 years of military service in the state retirement system.

“Sometimes when veterans finish their military service they continue in public service,” Comerford said. “They become a teacher or firefighter or police officers or town managers — any number of positions.”

The bill, she said, “would allow more military service to count toward retirement if veterans wanted to buy it back from the state.”

The idea came from a South Hadley constituent, Christopher Lane, who came to Comerford and said, “Wait a minute, I served in the military — why can I only buy back four years of service? Why couldn’t I buy back more?” “It’s a good question,” Comerford said.

Now, both bills could get packaged into one bill with other similar legislation, Comerford said. “The next step is the legislation could get wrapped up with other important veterans’ bills,” she said. “We’ll see.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.

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