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Lesser: When Veterans Serve, Their Families Serve with Them

Last month, we observed another Veterans Day. Once again, I reflected on how grateful I am for our men and women in the armed services who keep us safe every single day.

But I was also thinking about the people who tend to be forgotten each year on this sacred day: the wives and husbands, sons and daughters, mothers and fathers who also serve our country when their loved ones are deployed.

These family members make sacrifices, too. They move across the country or around the world to live on base. They go months without seeing or hearing from the people who mean the most to them. They miss their Dad on their birthday, or spend an anniversary without their spouse. They fear for their child’s safety.

And they toss and turn through sleepless nights, knowing that at any moment they could lose that person and be forced by fate to restart their lives with an unfillable void.

It is these family members who the Legislature had in mind when we amended the state’s Gold Star Annuity Program last year to enhance benefit eligibility for servicemembers’ families.

The program provides $2,000 annually to next-of-kin, either parents or spouses, which is a major financial help for families, first as they plan expensive funeral services and then into the future as they pay their daily expenses and care for family members on a single income.

The change to the program enacted last year, originally filed by my former Senate colleague Tom McGee of Lynn, allows retroactive benefit payments to family members from their initial eligibility upon the death of a servicemember. Family members used to have to apply for the benefit immediately, but they often missed the application deadline, or were unaware of the benefit, while they were reeling from the loss of a loved one.

This change helped a constituent of mine in Springfield last year. Her husband, after being exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam, passed away years later due to complications from that exposure.

My constituent was able to qualify as a Gold Star spouse due to the change in this law, which has helped her put her life back together. I’m glad we were able to help this Gold Star spouse receive the measure of dignity and gratitude we owe her.

She is not the only one, and many Massachusetts families face similar situations as they wait for loved ones to come home only to receive a terrible knock on the door and a folded American flag.

These are the families I thought about as we observed Veterans’ Day this year. And I’m making it my mission to do as much as I can to support them while they serve all of us.

– Senator Eric P. Lesser is the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development & Emerging Technologies. He represents the First Hampden & Hampshire District in Western MA.