Boards Respond To Vets: Accidental Disability Vets Previously Denied

JULY 06 - Local retirement boards have responded big time in voting retroactive stipends for their veterans who retired under accidental disability. These are vets who were denied the same benefit that superannuation veterans have long received.

Our legislation, Chapter 157 of the Acts of ’05, allows these veterans to receive an annual stipend of $15.00 for each year of public service up to a maximum of $300 yearly. Chapter 157 has two sections, each requiring a separate vote. Section 1 allows payment going forward from the date of acceptance. Section 2 also allows a one-time retroactive payment going back to the date of retirement. Presently 71 of our local retirement systems have stepped up to the plate and voted for both sections 1 and 2.

The Reading, Worcester and Winthrop Retirement Boards voted to accept Section 1, but their vote was 3-2 against Section 2. In all three cases, the two elected members did vote yes for Section 2, but were out-voted. In only one instance did the two elected members vote again Section 2, Northbridge, where the vote was in favor of Section 1, but 5-0 against Section 2. Muriel Barry and John Meagher, the chairman, are the Boards two elected members. At another board, Lynn, the vote was in favor of Section 1, but a vote has not yet been taken on Section 2.

The Hull Board’s vote on Chapter 157 was unusual. On March 29, the board voted 5-0 for Section 1 but voted 3-2 to take “no action” on Section 2. Town meeting subsequently voted yes on Section 1 and “no action” on Section 2. This means that the Board could actually vote for Section 2 at a later date. Elected member Lenny Colten, the chairman,  who was the key vote in favor of no action said he “hoped the Board would have the money to vote for Section 2 sometime in the near future.” Board members Maurice Murphy (elected member) and Gerald Ball (Board’s fifth member) voted in favor of Section 2. The retroactive cost to Hull’s pension fund would have been $81,000 for 18 veterans.

In Attleboro, there was a unanimous Retirement Board vote for Section 1 and a 3-2 favorable vote for Section 2. The City Council voted against Section 2, only to reverse its vote two weeks later and vote yes, 6-5 for Section 2. However, Mayor Kevin Dumas vetoed the Council’s vote on Section 2 and there were not sufficient votes for a veto override. Council President Barry Lacasse and Council Finance Committee Chairman Frank Cook were the leading opponents to Section 2. The retroactive payment for 24 veterans would have been $124,000.

In the Western Mass community of Easthampton, the Retirement Board voted favorably for Sections 1 and 2, only to have the vote on Section 2 rejected by the City Council.

At this time, 39 of these local boards have received the necessary final approval from their governing bodies. In a city it would be a city council or board of alderman, and in a town, it’s Town Meeting. In a county or regional Board, the Retirement Advisory Council must approve. There is no time limit on acceptance by the board or governing bodies. Boston’s Board, for example, has accepted Section 1 and 2, but it is awaiting a City Council vote. Under Boston’s financial procedure, things take a little longer, but Board members feel confident of a favorable vote. Also, many Town Meetings were still underway as we went to press.

Belmont was the first Town Meeting to approve its Retirement Board’s favorable vote of Chapter 157, both Sections 1 and 2. Roy Sacco, the Board’s chairman and leading proponent at Town Meeting, says Belmont has been good to its veterans.

“They (Town Meeting) were very receptive of our Board’s recommendation. The Town has always backed its veterans. The retroactive cost to the pension fund ($78,000) was not an issue,” said Sacco. “I know it’s been a struggle with some boards. However, this legislation should have been passed a long time ago, and I think all boards should fight for their veterans.”

State, Teachers Wait Amendment

Qualified veterans at the State and Teachers’ Retirement Board are awaiting a legislative amendment to Chapter 157 that will make these vets eligible for Sections 1 and 2. There was a snafu in the Chapter 157 language that inadvertently excluded these two Boards, the Commonwealth’s largest.

“This has certainly caused a great deal of anguish,” acknowledged Association President Ralph White. “I apologize to those affected members who have been patiently waiting. We will get this taken care of before the legislative session ends in July.”