Chapter 115 Benefits give low-income veterans and their dependents monthly financial assistance. Those who qualify are encouraged to use the cash for expenses like rent, utilities, medical bills, or anything else they need help with. However, to ensure that every veteran in need of these benefits receives them, we need to increase the awareness of the program.
Like many Veterans’ Service Officers (VSOs) in Massachusetts, Stephanie Shaw, Director of Veterans Services in Chicopee, spends a lot of time doing outreach about Chapter 115 Benefits. “Awareness is low, and despite this program being around since the Civil War, people still don’t know about it,” she says.
Part of her outreach includes maintaining a regular social media presence through the Chicopee Department of Veteran Services. Sharing stories and resources on Facebook and Instagram has helped increase awareness within her community. She also includes flyers and reminders when mailing paperwork.
“We always tell people to let us know if they don’t get a mailer. If you don’t get one, then we don’t know about you. We send them to veterans and their family members, trying to come from different perspectives, because even if you don’t directly benefit from Chapter 115, maybe your uncle or your neighbor can. Everybody knows somebody who could.”
As a result of her outreach, in a city with over 5,000 veterans, Stephanie still sees new applications for Chapter 115 weekly. Sometimes she gets veterans calling her who have tried to apply for Chapter 115 Benefits two or three times and were told they weren’t eligible, but now they actually might be. That’s why she does what she does. Closing the gap between veterans and the benefits they’ve earned is only possible if they’re given the tools and resources they need to access them. Helping veterans access these benefits is part of her job and she believes her work here still isn’t done.
The Massachusetts Veteran Benefit Calculator makes the conversation easier for her and the veterans in her community. “The calculator makes the application process a more positive experience because they already know if they qualify beforehand. The conversation shifts from ‘I’m sorry, I can’t help you’ to ‘How can I help you’,” Shaw says.
The most important thing Stephanie has learned in her time working with veterans is that above all, they continually hold themselves to their core military values. They’re always making sure they’re prioritizing and caring for those around them. This is often what keeps them from seeking the help they’ve earned, because as Stephanie puts it “we don’t tend to put ourselves first.”
“There’s a false myth, especially with veterans, that if I use these benefits for myself, then I’m taking it from someone else who needs it more,” says Stephanie. “What I tell people is that this isn’t about you. This is about taking care of your wife and your kids. This is about making sure you’re accessing benefits that can help your family, if and when you are no longer able to. Taking care of yourself extends to your family. It means a better life for your family.”
Massachusetts has these benefits for veterans because they know that our veterans have earned them through their hard work and dedication. The Commonwealth recognizes that effort and is making sure that veterans and their families are taken care of.
“We do more in Massachusetts because we should and we can.”