MASSACHUSETTS FACES a vexing problem when it comes to providing benefits to veterans and their families: The Commonwealth offers some of the nation’s most generous financial payments and medical reimbursements to former service members and their dependents. But thousands of people who are eligible for aid aren’t receiving it — either because they don’t know the benefits exist, or because they don’t know how to get them. Either way, communities across the state have to do a better job of publicizing their services and seeking out veterans who aren’t receiving the benefits they’ve earned.
The shortfall is worrisome: By one estimate, as many as 20,000 low-income veterans and their dependents are needlessly forfeiting aid they’ve earned. Those numbers tar the state’s otherwise stellar record of providing for veterans and their families.
According to Coleman Nee, the state’s secretary of veterans’ services, part of the problem can be traced to 23 communities around the state, including Medfield and Lexington, that fail to employ full-time veterans agents, positions required by state law intended to help connect eligible individuals with state and federal services. Officials in some of these towns argue that it’s too expensive to hire full-time agents when their current caseloads rest in the single digits.
Then again, it’s no wonder caseloads are low in communities with no one publicizing available aid. Arranging for a full-time veterans agent is a duty local municipalities should be able to handle, especially since the state enables communities to share agents if they can’t afford their own. Agents who serve multiple towns are likely be the most economical way to meet this need.
Municipalities also need to embrace an aggressive strategy of reaching out to veterans, some of whom may be reluctant to accept benefits to which they’re entitled. Some towns with full-time agents still handle only a handful of cases. Communities with such light caseloads should audit their outreach programs to ensure agents are working tirelessly to find veterans and are serving them competently. Any less of an effort would be beneath a state that values the burden shouldered by veterans and their families.