Via Boston Herald

By Maria Szaniszlo

For years, Massachusetts has had a program that provides financial aid for food, housing, clothing and medical care to veterans and their dependents with limited incomes. There’s only one problem — many veterans have never heard of it.

On Tuesday, the Veterans Legal Clinic at Harvard Law School’s Legal Services Center unveiled the Massachusetts Veteran Benefit Calculator, an online tool the clinic created to help veterans easily determine if they’re eligible for financial assistance through the program known as Chapter 115.

“We’re proud to be able to launch it statewide this Veterans Day,” said Betsy Gwin, associate director of the Veterans Legal Clinic. “Spreading the word about this tool and increasing awareness about Chapter 115 benefits is something that is tangible; it’s a concrete thing that we can all do together right now to help support low-income veterans and their families in Massachusetts.”

Under Chapter 115, low-income veterans can be eligible for state financial assistance ranging from a few dollars to more than $1,000 per month if they fall below 200% of the federal poverty level and meet other eligibility requirements. But there has been a persistent gap between the number of veterans eligible for these funds and the number of veterans who actually apply for them.

A 2017 State Auditor’s Office report found that between 2014 and 2016, only 14,390 Massachusetts veterans received Chapter 115 benefits. The Veterans Legal Clinic estimates that thousands more are likely to be eligible. The Chapter 115 program also supports veterans’ dependents and survivors, Gwin said, but many are unaware of the program.

“No veteran or survivor in Massachusetts should be struggling to avoid homelessness, to keep the lights on or to feed their family,” she said, “and this financial assistance can make all the difference.”

Many veterans also are hesitant to ask for help, Gwin said.

“This is not a handout; it’s a hand up,” said Francisco Urena, Massachusetts secretary of veterans affairs. “Most of our veterans are successful upon returning home, but if certain circumstances of economy, circumstances of employment ever lead them to being without, the safety net programs that we have here in Massachusetts make that veteran a better candidate for success.”

Wesley Bigham, 31, of Abington enlisted in the Army in January 2011 and served in Afghanistan from January to October 2013.

“The first time I heard about Chapter 115 benefits was nearly five years after enrolling in VA care,” Bigham said. “… At that time, when I was struggling to find a job and attempting to resettle with my family, I had no idea Chapter 115 even existed. … We’re fortunate that we … were able to stay with our family.”

For more information, veterans should visit MassVetBen.org.