By Harry Kane
Somerville’s Veterans’ Services received an additional $167,030 to cover the costs of veterans and their dependents’ finances, due to rises in healthcare costs, the number of younger veterans returning from war, and a slow-moving economic recovery.
In Massachusetts, lawmakers passed legislation before the Civil War, allowing veterans to receive monthly financial assistance in the form of a check. Since then, the lawmakers have kept that program alive, but have periodically revised its provisions. The program is commonly known as a Chapter 115 benefit, a sort of safeguarded monthly income to protect veterans and their families from financial woes.
“Here in Somerville, it fluctuates, but we typically have around 60 people on our rolls,” said Jay Weaver, director of Veterans’ Services. “We do what we can to try to find employment for them,” he added. Some of the veterans have already reached retirement age, some are drawing Social Security, and some are not employable due to disabilities, or medical problems. “So, for some people it’s an actual necessity.”
However, for the 2010 fiscal year, Somerville only had 39 veterans receiving benefits from this program. This year Veterans’ Services began with $290,000 but needed more than a 50 percent supplemental appropriation, in the amount of $167,030, the largest supplement in recent history. The reason is a growing indigent veteran population in Somerville, said Weaver. “We ended up spending that money much more quickly than anybody could have anticipated,” he said.
The biggest reason for that increase: “a number of the older people that were on Chapter 115 here in Somerville went off, either because they passed away or because they moved to nursing homes in other towns. As they left our books, they were replaced by an equal number of younger veterans,” said Weaver.
Younger veterans who are not working are eligible for the full amount of benefits, while the older veterans are getting substantial amounts from Social Security, VA pensions, and disability compensation.
“As a result, the amount that we had to spend skyrocketed,” said Weaver.
It’s important to remember, said Weaver, that Somerville residents are not fronting the bill. Chapter 115 is jointly funded by the state and by the city or town where the veteran lives. That means that Massachusetts pays back Somerville 75 percent of the cost used to assist veterans.
The second biggest reason that more money was allocated to Veterans’ Services is because the cost of health insurance has gone up. “One of the requirements of Chapter 115 is that we have to reimburse anybody who’s on that program for all of their out of pocket medical expenses,” explained Weaver. In many cases veterans and dependents have “fairly substantial” bills for prescriptions, doctors visits, and dental care.
“That [extra money] really didn’t come as too much of a surprise to anybody,” Weaver said, regarding the supplemental funds. “That’s why the aldermen really didn’t question it too carefully, because I think we all knew that was going to happen.”
“The aldermen, I think rightfully so, don’t want to put money in the pot if it’s going to be needed. You can always come back and ask for more. It’s harder to put that money back into the bank after it’s been appropriated.”
Weaver said that finding jobs for veterans depends on what the veteran is suited to do. As well, it depends on what their medical condition will allow them to do. Veterans with disabilities are often unable to take strenuous jobs, so a suitable job must be found for their physical capability.
“We have several veterans that are fairly well educated,” he said, “but just because of circumstance or the nature of their background, what they had for a major in college, and because of the nature of the economy with the high unemployment rate, they are having a difficult time finding work in their specialty.”
Veterans’ Services have placed veterans into many jobs over the years. Weaver said they had recently placed one veteran into a housekeeping position at a VA hospital. “It really runs the gamut, depends on what they are qualified to do,” he said.