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Massachusetts bills focusing on women veterans go before legislative committee

The Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston.
Jesse Costa

Bills pending on Beacon Hill seeking to bolster services for women veterans will go before a legislative committee Tuesday.

A report last year by the Massachusetts' auditor's office said the state veteran's services office had only identified 6% of the 25,000 women veterans living in the commonwealth.

State Sen. John Velis, D- Westfield, chairs the legislature's joint committee on veterans and federal affairs. He said finding women veterans and making them aware of available services is a big part of his bill.

“And really, a lot of it is just kind of meeting women veterans where they are and getting them to raise their hand and say 'yes, I served, I'm a veteran,” Velis said. “We need to do it."

The legislation also calls for a look at how to improve benefits and services for women veterans and to create online resources.

A similar bill has also been filed by State Rep. Shirley Arriaga, D- Chicopee. In an e-mail, Arriaga said more needs to be done for veterans, but “the focus on women veterans needs to be seen and needs to be aggressive.”

“Simply put our commonwealth needs to do more and needs to push an aggressive outreach campaign to help contact and engage with our female veterans,” she continued.

Both Arriaga and Velis are veterans.

All told, nearly three dozen bills having to do with veterans will go before the committee. Another piece of legislation filed by Velis would require the state’s veterans’ homes to have full-time infection control and emergency preparedness specialists on staff. This comes in the wake of the deadly 2020 COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home where at least 76 veterans died.

How the crisis was handled has been strongly criticized in reports on the incident and resulted in criminal neglect charges filed against the former superintendent and medical director at the facility.

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