While Washington has been slow to do right by returning military veterans, Boston has stepped up. That will continue if the Legislature passes the Valor Act, which was introduced before the state Senate on Tuesday.
The bill, sponsored by Senator Michael Rush of Boston, a Democrat who has served in Iraq as a member of the Naval Reserve, is designed to expand on the educational, housing and business programs the state has instituted for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the provisions of the bill is state financial assistance for startup or expansion of veteran-owned businesses. The bill would also expand support for Gold Star families, those in which a husband or wife has been lost in military service.
Even in times of tight budgets, Massa chusetts has been generous in funding homelessness services, outreach centers and other programs that help returning veterans. This acknowledges the responsibility government has to assist those who have served abroad, often at great personal sacrifice. This responsibility has not always been met, particularly when the wars are ill-defined or unpopular.
The U.S. lumbered into Afghanistan and particularly Iraq with such shortsighted arrogance that no long-range plans for veterans assistance were made. After all, the wars would surely be brief, and in Iraq we would be "greeted with flowers" in the infamous words of Vice President Dick Cheney. Because of roadside bombs and other guerrilla strategies, crippling injuries and psychological trauma have been extremely high in both wars, and veterans have returned in need of long-term care the nation was not prepared to provide.
Last fall, The Boston Globe reported that Massachusetts veterans were not receiving all of their state benefits because in some cases the appropriate municipal officials were unaware of veterans benefits or weren’t industrious enough in pursuing them. The state Department of Veterans’ Services must make sure that every community is prepared to get vets what they have earned.
With the Iraq war over and the war in Afghanistan winding down -- albeit far too slowly -- many veterans will be returning home for good, some to Massa chusetts. The Valor Act will help them and their families to successfully pick up where they left off before being called upon to serve the nation.