Changes to the state’s Welcome Home Bonus program will increase benefits to many Massachusetts veterans who serve multiple tours of duty overseas, state Treasurer Steven Grossman said last week.
The changes clarify aspects of the existing law governing the Bonus program to ensure that it reflects equitable treatment to those who serve in the higher-risk theaters of combat of Iraq and Afghanistan.
For soldiers on a first deployment, the Welcome Home Bonus program offers a $1,000 payment after a tour of service in Iraq or Afghanistan and a $500 payment after at least six months of service in any other foreign or domestic location.
But the law governing the Bonus program dictated that subsequent tours of duty would be awarded with half of those amounts, leading some veterans to qualify for unequal payments even when they served in the higher-risk theaters of Iraq or Afghanistan. For example, a tour of duty in Germany and a subsequent tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan would qualify a veteran for only $1,000 ($500 + $500), while if those tours were reversed, the same veteran would qualify for $1,250 ($1,000 + $250).
Following the legislative action requested by Treasurer Grossman to clarify the Welcome Home Bonus law, veterans now automatically qualify for the $1,000 Bonus for their first tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, regardless of where they were deployed in prior service. These same veterans now also qualify for a $500 Bonus for a subsequent tour if it is their first tour outside of the two hotspot countries. Because of the legislative correction, a veteran would now qualify for $1,500 in Bonus payments for one tour in Germany and one tour in Iraq or Afghanistan, regardless of the sequence of service.
Grossman noted that the legislative changes will be retroactive back to the Welcome Home Bonus program’s inception in 2006 and that he is directing his staff to review past records and notify veterans who are now eligible for additional awards for past service.
The state has paid over $19 million in Welcome Home Bonuses since 2006. Grossman said that the demands on the program will likely increase in the near future with President Obama’s goal of withdrawing combat troops from Iraq.
In addition to administering the Welcome Home Bonus program, the Treasury recently worked with the Department of Veteran Services to cross-reference the names of veterans with the Commonwealth’s unclaimed property database.
This effort resulted in over 2,300 Massachusetts veterans being notified that they had property such as forgotten bank accounts, uncashed checks, insurance policies, stocks and dividend payments for which they could file a claim.