Two recent decisions by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Veterans’ Services (EOVS)* make it easier for self-employed veterans and family members of veterans to qualify for Chapter 115 benefits.
Chapter 115 is a program that provides financial support to eligible veterans and their families for basic needs like food, shelter, and medical expenses. The program can provide monthly or one-time payments.
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.
Self-employed people need to follow certain rules to qualify for Chapter 115 benefits. But in two recent decisions, EOVS agreed with veterans that it should be easier for self-employed people to qualify for benefits. EOVS made these decisions because veterans appealed decisions terminating their benefits. Advocates from the Veterans Legal Clinic at the WilmerHale Legal Services Center represented these veterans in their appeals.
In the first decision, EOVS agreed that self-employed people may deduct their legitimate business expenses when counting their income to decide whether they qualify for benefits. That decision helps people who spend some of their income on business expenses. Business expenses include things like supplies, gas, or equipment you use for work. A legitimate business expense is a reasonable amount you pay for something that is necessary to the business. For example, for a business that involves hauling heavy things, the reasonable cost of keeping up a truck is a legitimate business expense. The recent decision clarifies that money that goes to pay for legitimate business expenses does not count as income when deciding your eligibility for Chapter 115 benefits.
In the second decision, EOVS agreed that some self-employed people can receive Chapter 115 benefits without having to follow an “employment plan.” Specifically, EOVS agreed that a self-employed person whose business shows signs of being profitable in the future does not need to follow an employment plan. An employment plan might require you to apply for new jobs, attend job training programs, and accept any job offer you get. These steps might not make much sense for self-employed people. The recent decision gives those people more flexibility.
If you are self-employed, there are a few things you can do to make it more likely you will qualify for Chapter 115 benefits or qualify for a larger monthly Chapter 115 benefit check:
- Keep records of your business expenses. When you spend money on things you need for your business, keep your receipts and other records. You should also keep your calendars and appointment books. You might need this information to show how you run your business and what your legitimate business expenses are.
- Ask your VSO to exclude your business expenses from your income. Your VSO will decide which expenses to deduct from your countable income. Deductions may help you qualify for benefits. Deductions may also increase the amount of your benefits. If you disagree with your VSO’s decision about which expenses to deduct, you can appeal.
- Tell your VSO about your plan to make your business profitable. If your business is not making a profit right now, tell your VSO about your plans to earn more money through the business in the future. Knowing your plans can help your VSO decide that your business has what EOVS calls “foreseeable prospects of generating income.” If your business meets that test, you will not need to have an employment plan.
- Track how your business is doing financially. Consider keeping records of how much money your business is taking in and how many customers you have. This kind of information can help show that your business has the potential to make money in the future. It might help show that you don’t need an employment plan.
- Tell your VSO about your educational background and work experience. Knowing about your education and work experience can help your VSO decide that your business has the potential to make money in the future. This information might help your VSO decide that you do not need to have an employment plan while you are working on your business.
Taking these steps can help you access the Chapter 115 benefits you and your family have earned through your service.
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 email@example.com. 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.