Veterans and family members who are applying for or already receiving Chapter 115 benefits should be aware of new program policies put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently, some—but not all—Chapter 115 recipients who are unemployed are required to look for work as part of their eligibility for ongoing benefits. In June 2020, given the significant job losses caused by the pandemic, the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services (DVS), which oversees the Chapter 115 program, temporarily suspended the requirement that benefit recipients provide proof that they are continuing to look for new work. DVS lifted that temporary suspension in October. In doing so, however, DVS made clear that due to the ongoing public health risks of COVID-19, the required job searches can be conducted completely online or via telephone, and no applicant for or recipient of Chapter 115 benefits can be required to conduct in-person job searches.
In addition, DVS has advised local Veterans Services Officers (VSOs) to be reasonable and understanding in considering how COVID-19 may impact a veteran or family member’s effort to obtain employment. As described below, it is important to remember that some people are completely exempt from any job search requirements. Moreover, every applicant and recipient has the right to challenge a decision to deny or cut off benefits, including those that relate to compliance with or exemption from job search requirements.
Chapter 115 provides financial assistance to low-income veterans and their dependents. You can find out if you might be eligible by using the Massachusetts Veteran Benefit Calculator. If a Chapter 115 applicant or recipient needs financial assistance primarily because they are unemployed, then the local VSO will look into the cause of the unemployment. An applicant who is ineligible for state unemployment benefits may still be able to get Chapter 115 benefits.
For applicants and recipients who can work, the local VSO will help create an employment plan. The plan will include steps that the applicant must take to look for employment in order to meet the job search requirement for receiving Chapter 115 benefits. Steps can include networking efforts, a certain number of weekly job searches, and training programs. A VSO might deny benefits to employable applicants who don’t have a good reason for turning down appropriate employment offers. Otherwise, an employable applicant or recipient who follows their employment plan satisfies the job search requirement and should continue to be eligible for ongoing Chapter 115 benefits.
Importantly, there is an exemption from the job search requirement for applicants who are disabled and unable to work. Applicants who cannot work due to medical reasons should provide proof, such as a letter from a doctor or from other benefits programs, to their VSO. Such applicants will not need to have an employment plan.
As noted above, the job search requirement currently applies to non-exempt applicants and recipients. However, job searches can be performed online, by telephone, email, or mail; there is no requirement that job searches be conducted in person. The emphasis on contactless job searches is an acknowledgment of the continuing public health crisis. DVS has suggested that job seekers utilize online job matching systems such as the Massachusetts JobQuest website and look for remote work opportunities. Chapter 115 applicants and recipients always have the right to right to appeal if they are deemed ineligible for an exemption from the employment plan. They can also appeal a decision related to non-compliance with the employment plan or job search requirement. The Veterans Legal Clinic may be able to assist with appeals and other matters related to Chapter 115 benefits. If you are a Chapter 115 applicant or recipient who wants legal assistance with an appeal or have questions about Chapter 115 benefit eligibility, please contact the Veterans Legal Clinic intake line by phone at 617-390-2525 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about your legal rights as a Chapter 115 benefit applicant or recipient, please visit our online self-help guide.