After MassLive Investigation, State Veterans Department Orders Increased Benefits for Some
The head of the state Department of Veterans' Services has ordered all towns and cities to fall in line with its own interpretation of a benefit payment law that had been the subject of disagreement between local agencies.
The directive issued by Secretary Coleman Nee reiterates the policy that a veteran's family is treated as a single unit, rather than separately, which will increase future monthly payments for those who were held to a different standard.
MassLive.com reported on Dec. 9 that several communities were interpreting a state law called Chapter 115 in a way the department disagreed with, and it was affecting payments.
Chapter 115 Section 5 states that a veteran has to establish residency in a town for 24 hours before applying for taxpayer-funded benefits at the local agency, but any dependents must have lived in Massachusetts for at least three years. Most local agencies ignored the three-year rule at the state's direction, while others enforced it and paid certain veterans with families at an individual rate.
Nee's directive was sent to veterans services officers and dated Dec. 19. It was obtained by MassLive.com this week.
It reminds local agencies of a 1979 federal court ruling that struck down a three-year residency rule for the veteran, calling it a violation of the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause, and replaced it with the 24-hour standard.
"While there has never been a case challenging the three-year residency requirement for dependents of veterans, it is the opinion of the Department of Veterans' Services that, if challenged, that portion of the law applicable to dependents would also be struck down as unconstitutional," the directive reads.
It goes on to order all agencies who have applied the three-year standard to dependents to track them down and offer them the full amount allowed under their interpretation of Chapter 115.
If you are denied benefits for any reason, you can appeal that decision.
To read our full investigation into the payment discrepancies, which revealed great uncertainty and confusion at the local and state levels, click here.
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