Honoring our veterans and their families

In MassLive 6/22/15

A few years ago my father called me with unexpected news: at the age of 58, he was joining the Massachusetts Army National Guard.

My dad had been a family doctor in Holyoke for nearly two decades, and after learning about the shortage of doctors in the armed services, he took it upon himself to do something about it; in 2010, he served a tour of duty as a field surgeon at Tallil Air Base in southern Iraq.

Through his experience, I learned the sacrifice involved in putting on the uniform. That sacrifice is shared by the family of those serving, as well. My mother, for example, faced the dual burden of worrying for her husband's well-being while managing her own profession and caring for their family in his absence.

Since our nation's founding, the sons and daughters of Massachusetts have been answering the call to serve.

To show their service and sacrifice, I've been focused on improving services for veterans as they transition back into the civilian life and seek opportunities for personal growth.

As a member of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, I review and recommend legislation aiming to improve the lives of veterans and their families in Massachusetts, which has a well-earned reputation for being among the best states in the nation for veterans' services.

For example, the VALOR Acts enable veterans along with the spouses of deceased or disabled veterans to volunteer their time in exchange for reduced property tax bills.

These laws also encourage private sector employers to hire veterans and spouses of disabled veterans for their businesses; provide seed money for the start-up and expansion of veteran-owned businesses; and permit veterans to receive academic credit for prior military training, coursework, and experience.

In May I co-sponsored a successful Senate budget amendment that helps fund BRAVE For Veterans, an organization that aids veterans transitioning into the workforce. I will be a strong advocate for this funding to be included in the final state budget when it is signed by Governor Baker.

I have also had the chance to visit the Soldiers' Home in Holyoke several times, where I've met with area veterans and their dedicated caretakers. Supporting the work of the Soldiers' Home is a top priority for me in the Senate.

This past Memorial Day I had the honor of attending ceremonies in many communities around western Massachusetts.

At one ceremony in Chicopee, the names of those who died during the Vietnam War were read aloud and a candle was lit in their honor as the families and friends of the fallen paid their respects. It was a poignant reminder of how long the scars of war remain, years and even many decades later.

After all our veterans and their families have done for us, we must do everything we can for them.This is a solemn obligation I will always take with me to the State House.

State Senator Eric Lesser represents the First Hampden & Hampshire District and is a member of the Joint Committee on Veterans & Federal Affairs.

Op-edEric Lesser