As the Director of the General Mental Health Clinic at the Jamaica Plain Campus of the Boston VA Healthcare System, Laila Swydan, LICSW, knows the difficult situations that veterans across Massachusetts often confront. She regularly works with people experiencing mental health issues, facing unemployment and financial hurdles, and struggling with life transitions including returning home from deployment and dealing with new disabilities.
Whenever she talks to a veteran going through hardship, she asks them if they’ve applied for Chapter 115 Benefits – a statewide program that provides financial assistance to low-income veterans and their family members. It’s always surprising to her how many veterans are unaware that these benefits exist.
The awareness around Chapter 115 is lower than it should be, especially among the people who could most benefit from it. “All it takes is someone to take the time to educate people about it, and to encourage them to look into it,” says Laila. “Finding out if you qualify using the Massachusetts Veteran Benefit Calculator is such an easy process that once veterans find out about it, they’re motivated to apply for the benefits for their own sake.” Many benefits that exist have barriers to entry including lengthy applications and confusing requirements that are overwhelming for those in distress. The success of Ch 115 and the MVBC is in how clear, easy, and fast it is to obtain support.
When asked about the importance and the impact of Chapter 115, Laila recalls the story of one veteran. A veteran came to her experiencing suicidal ideation, brought on by financial stress. His employer at the time was not paying him. When eventually the company went under, he lost his job and was about to lose his apartment.
He was referred to Laila, and when they met she asked him if he had heard of Chapter 115. He said he had not. Laila got him started on the application process – scheduling a meeting with his local Veterans Service Officer (VSO), and identifying the paperwork he needed to bring to his appointment. The client soon submitted an application for Chapter 115 with his VSO, and almost immediately began receiving a source of monthly income through the program.
The next time Laila saw him, there was a dramatic difference. “He felt hope,” she recalls. “Chapter 115 gave him enough income to make him feel hopeful again, and to remind him that his life was worth living.”
Since then, he’s found a home at an affordable housing unit, applied for Social Security Disability, and increased his overall financial stability. At their most recent check in, Laila notes that his mood improved, his life has flourished and that he’s doing so much better now.
“Once you help them get these benefits, you see how it helps in multifaceted ways. It’s validating. It reminds them that they’ve proudly served this country and they deserve this. It’s a benefit that only exists for them. Their commonwealth is recognizing their service and giving back to them and their families,” says Laila.
She urges veterans – and everyone else – to share information about Chapter 115 benefits and to point veterans to the Massachusetts Veteran Benefit Calculator to learn if they might qualify for assistance through the program.
As Laila knows, financial struggles can impact much more than a veteran’s budget: economic stability is a critical component of mental health and general wellbeing. For veterans in Massachusetts, Chapter 115 benefits can provide income that makes a critical difference in the lives of veterans and their families. Laila supports veterans everyday; we can lend our support by spreading the word that help is out there.