It’s no secret that veterans face countless challenges when returning from active duty. For some returning from military service, reintegration to civilian life is about much more than just coming home. It is also about the ups and downs of a job search, trying to find a place to live, and starting a new life away from the military. These are obstacles that veterans in the United States are expected to overcome–often without adequate tools or resources to do so.
Wes Bigham is one of many Massachusetts veterans who struggled upon returning home. After being deployed to Afghanistan while serving in the Army, Wes had two main priorities when he came home: finding a job and deciding if he should go back to school. He and his wife had a young daughter and while his wife had just finished school, she was still looking for a job. Their only source of income for several months were unemployment benefits. Eventually, Wes decided the best way to move forward was to continue his education, and he enrolled at Pace University. Luckily for Wes and his family, they had a support system at home during this transition time that alleviated some of the major stressors and financial strains of this unstable period.
But Wes knows that this isn’t always the case; and some of the other people he was deployed with weren’t as lucky. Support isn’t always guaranteed for veterans, and these issues often get worse if they aren’t dealt with up front.
“I know that a lot of guys that I deployed with who were getting out around same time were dealing with a lot of serious issues. You hear about the high suicide rate, homelessness, and lack of financial stability among veterans returning from active duty, and I witnessed that firsthand,” said Wes. “I had classmates who were veterans and dropped out of school because the financial stress, on top of all these other factors, was the last straw. Having access to monthly financial assistance would have relieved a tremendous amount of stress for my family, and I know it would have made a difference for others too, if they had known about it.”
Our veterans have earned our support and our help. This sense of hopelessness after returning home from active duty should not be ignored. We should be doing more for our veterans to help them adapt to life after the military. For veterans in Massachusetts, that starts with raising awareness for Chapter 115 Benefits – a statewide program that provides financial benefits to low-income veterans and their qualifying family members. Chapter 115 isn’t just for those who have been recently discharged. It’s available for any low-income veterans, dependents, or survivors experiencing financial hardship–regardless how long ago the veteran served.
Chapter 115 Benefits can make a significant difference for struggling veterans. Wes first heard about the program while volunteering at the Veterans Legal Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School. At the Clinic, Wes was introduced to the Massachusetts Veteran Benefit Calculator and using that tool, he learned he could have qualified for financial assistance when he came home from Afghanistan and was struggling to find a job and get resettled with his family.
“If I had known about Chapter 115 and this calculator, it would’ve been one of the first things I would have done when I came home, to help out my wife and my daughter,” said Wes.
The Mass Vet Benefit Calculator allows veterans to quickly learn if they appear to qualify for monthly financial assistance that could help them pay for basic things like housing, food, medical bills, and other necessities. The Calculator can also be used by the dependents and survivors of veterans, who can also qualify for assistance through Chapter 115. Financial assistance through Chapter 115 can make the difference between struggle and stability for veterans and their families; and the Calculator helps get them one step closer to that relief.
Veterans like Wes have earned their benefits. They’ve earned our support in any way we can provide it. Spreading awareness of tools like the Mass Vet Benefit Calculator helps us do that. The Calculator makes it easier and more approachable for veterans to get the help they need, and can influence the lives of so many. Together, we can make it so fewer veterans in Massachusetts struggle to make ends meet–and to ensure they receive sufficient resources to feel welcomed home.