Governor Charlie Baker has signed two veterans bills, sponsored by State Representative Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen), into law.
Under House Bill 4073, An Act exempting members of the military in active duty from automobile excise tax, active duty members of the military will now be exempt from the Commonwealth’s motor vehicle excise tax while serving. The excise tax will not apply to Massachusetts residents in active and full-time military service who have been deployed or stationed outside of the Commonwealth for a period of at least 180 days.
The legislation was inspired by a conversation DiZoglio had last year with a Methuen constituent, Diane Amato. Last August, Amato and her daughter Alfina, as well as Methuen City Councilor Thomas Ciulla, contacted DiZoglio regarding an issue the Amatos were facing with excise taxes. Despite the fact that Alfina was serving overseas in Afghanistan and unable to use a vehicle stateside, she was being charged with a motor vehicle excise tax.
“It can take years to pass a piece of legislation,” said DiZoglio. “I am very grateful to have been able to earn the support on the bills that I filed that were recently passed unanimously by both Democrats and Republicans. I am thankful to local advocates such as Methuen City Councilor Tom Ciulla and Diane Amato of Methuen for their passion and dedication to working together with my colleagues and I to see this through to the end.”
Under House Bill 3136, An Act relative to mental health, suicide prevention and transition services for veterans, a commission will be created to look into ways to improve transition services for returning veterans and reduce the rate of suicide and effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. The commission will investigate and study veterans’ reintegration into civilian life and issues related to isolation and suicide.
The legislation was earlier endorsed by the Gold Star Wives of America, VFW Post 8772 and Veterans Northeast Outreach Center (VNOC), located in Haverhill.
According to Pentagon data, war was the leading cause of death in the military nearly every year between 2004 and 2011 until suicide became the top cause of troop deaths in 2012 and 2013. A recent national study by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found deployed veterans have a 41 percent higher suicide risk compared to the general U.S. population, while non-deployed veterans have a 61 percent high suicide risk. Among veterans who died serving during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars between 2001-2007, roughly a fifth were suicides.
“Currently, the rate of suicide among our returning veterans is higher than that of those killed in the line of duty,” said DiZoglio. “This is simply unacceptable. I filed this legislation to ensure additional mental health services would be provided to the men and women who risk their lives to protect us. This bill will assist in their transition back into our communities. I am grateful to Governor Baker for signing this legislation as an example of his commitment to veterans in the Commonwealth.”