A recent appeal decision will help self-employed veterans and their families when they need financial assistance: The Mass. Executive Office of Veterans’ Services (EOVS)* has issued an appeal decision that will make it easier for self-employed people to qualify for Chapter 115 benefits.
Chapter 115 is a program that provides financial support to veterans and their families to help with basic needs such as food, shelter, and medical expenses. The program can provide monthly or one-time payments to support eligible veterans and their families.
EOVS recently agreed that some self-employed people can be eligible for Chapter 115 benefits without agreeing to an “employment plan” that would require them to apply for new jobs or attend training programs each week.
The recent decision restored benefits to a self-employed veteran. EOVS had terminated this veteran’s benefits because he said he would focus full-time on his business instead of searching for other work. Advocates from the Veterans Legal Clinic at the WilmerHale Legal Services Center represented the veteran in his appeal.
Some people who receive Chapter 115 benefits must follow an employment plan approved by their local Veterans’ Service Officer (VSO). An employment plan outlines steps you must take each week to find a job. This plan might require you to apply for a certain number of jobs each week. The plan would also require you to accept a job offer. And it might also require you to attend job training or counseling programs until you got a job.
If your VSO thinks you need to have an employment plan, your VSO is required to get your input about what might be an appropriate plan for you. Your VSO should consider several factors when developing an employment plan, including your skills and work history.
Some people are exempt from employment plans. If you have a disability and are unable to work, you do not have to have an employment plan. Instead, you should provide proof of your disability to the VSO. Proof of a disability might be a letter showing that you get VA disability benefits or disability benefits from the Social Security Administration such as SSI or SSDI. A letter from your doctor can also be proof of a disability.
If you disagree with a VSO’s decision that you need to have an employment plan as a requirement for receiving Chapter 115 benefits, you can appeal. And if you are okay with having an employment but disagree with one or more of the specific requirements your VSO put in the employment plan, you can appeal that, too.
For self-employed people, following an employment plan may not make much sense. Being self-employed means earning money working for your own business. For example, some people are self-employed by running their own catering or food business, or their own landscaping business, or their own haircut/hairstyling business. Some other people are self-employed in trade jobs like carpentry, plumbing, or auto repair. Being self-employed is often full-time work. So self-employed people might not have time to look for other work, even when business is slow. And looking for other work might not make sense for them. It might make more sense to focus on growing their business for the future.
EOVS rules say that self-employed people who receive benefits must follow an employment plan if their business does not have “foreseeable prospects of generating income.” That wording comes from 108 C.M.R. § 7.02(2). It means that DVS will usually require a self-employed person to follow an employment plan unless the person’s business is already profitable or there are signs that the person’s business can be profitable in the future.
However, if you are self-employed running a business that does show signs that it can be profitable in the future, you may not need to follow an employment plan to receive Chapter 115 benefits.
In its recent decision, EOVS looked at several factors to decide whether a particular veteran’s business had “foreseeable prospects of generating income.” The factors it considered were:
- The length and type of the veteran’s work experience;
- Information about the veteran’s current business; and
- The soundness of the veteran’s plan to make the business profitable.
The recent decision means that if you are a veteran or eligible family member of a veteran, you live in Massachusetts, and you are self-employed, you may be eligible to receive Chapter 115 benefits without needing to follow an employment plan. This is good news for veterans and their family members who are entrepreneurs or small business owners.
If you are a veteran or family member of a veteran and you live in Massachusetts, we encourage you to explore your Chapter 115 benefits options. Contact your local Veterans’ Service Officer (VSO) for more information. You can also find the Chapter 115 benefits application here. To complete the application, you will need several documents. You should have your discharge papers, proof of residency, and recent bank statements ready. Your VSO can help gather the documents you need.
If you need legal support with an appeal to challenge a decision about an employment plan with EOVS or a decision denying, terminating, reducing, or miscalculating Chapter 115 benefits, please contact us at the Veterans Legal Clinic. You can apply for legal support by calling our intake line at 617-390-2525 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will review your case and let you know if and how we may be able to help.
For your appeal to count, you need to file it with EOVS before the appeal deadline. The appeal deadline is 21 days from when you received a notice from your VSO that you disagree with. You can find the appeal deadline in the notice your VSO sends that says the VSO is denying, reducing, or terminating your benefits or taking any other action you disagree with.
Please know that contacting the Veterans Legal Clinic is not the same thing as filing an appeal. The Clinic provides advice and representation to veterans. We are not the place where veterans should file their appeals. Appeals must be filed with EOVS. If you would like to appeal, be sure to file with EOVS before the deadline.
If a health problem, personal or family crisis, or some other significant problem prevents you from filing your appeal before the 21-day appeal deadline, you should still file your appeal. Explain in your appeal letter why you couldn’t file the appeal by the deadline. EOVS will decide if your reason for filing late is valid. If EOVS decides your reason is valid, your appeal can still go forward. If you disagree with EOVS’s decision about that, you can then file an appeal to challenge EOVS’s decision. Read any decision from EOVS carefully to see what it says about further appeal rights and deadlines.
The Veterans Legal Clinic is committed to helping veterans and their families access the resources they have earned through their service. Veterans and their families can learn more about whether they may be eligible for Chapter 115 benefits by using our online calculator and reviewing our Chapter 115 Benefits Self-Help Guide.
* On March 1, 2023, DVS changed its name to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Veterans’ Services or “EOVS.” We are using the new name, “EOVS,” in this post. You might still see the name “DVS” in things written before the name change, including older posts on this website. Just know that “DVS” and “EOVS” are two different names for the same office.