Video: Gov. Patrick signs bill to expand veterans' benefits

Staff reports

Gov. Deval Patrick on Wednesday went to American Legion Post 294 in Quincy to sign into law new measures that officials promise will improve the financial, physical and psychological health of the state’s roughly 440,000 veterans.

The bill makes veterans eligible for more bonuses upon returning from duty, gives businesses owned by disabled veterans preference for state contracts, and launches a study of expanding the capacity of soldiers’ homes in the state.

“It contains a series of important steps that we can take to honor the men and women who serve our nation and our commonwealth,” Patrick said. “We can not thank you enough.”

The legislation allows service members to collect more than one “welcome home” bonus upon returning from duty.

In the past, service members were only eligible to receive a one-time $1,000 bonus upon returning from a deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. The new bill calls for an additional $500 bonus for each additional overseas deployment.

The bill also allows service members stationed abroad to vote electronically in elections, and apply their military service to licensing and apprenticeship requirements.

In addition, the bill creates a program to present a “Medal of Liberty” to the next-of-kin of Massachusetts soldiers killed in action. It also calls for studying the possibility of creating a “military hall of fame” for the state’s decorated veterans.

“Our state supports our troops – not only abroad, but back at home,” said Sen. Ken Donnelly of Arlington, a member of the Legislature’s veterans affairs committee.

State Rep. Harold Naughton Jr. of Clinton, a veteran of the Iraq war, said the bill “continues the proud tradition of Massachusetts being the most generous state in the country to our veterans.”

Another aspect of the bill, pushed by Rep. Joseph Driscoll of Braintree, calls for studying a program in which the brains of National Guardsmen would be examined, before and after tours of duty. Because the state has no authority over other branches of the military, the program would not apply to them.

Driscoll said the program would help determine whether a guardsman is suffering from a brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder, conditions that often cause the same symptoms but require different treatments.

“We’d like to make Massachusetts a model for the rest of the country for how we detect and treat traumatic brain injury,” Driscoll said.

Patriot Ledger writer Jack Encarnacao may be reached at jencarnacao@ledger.com.