Thousands of Mass. veterans eligible for cash assistance aren't receiving benefits

Thousands of Mass. veterans eligible for cash assistance aren't receiving benefits

Millions of dollars in state funds that could be helping veterans in need isn't getting to most of them, according to the state auditor.

"There are a lot of challenges and stresses for veterans who are returning home from active duty," said Wesley Bigham, U.S. Army veteran.

Bigham came home from serving in the Army more than five years ago and for months, he says it was rough going.

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"My wife had just finished up her master's degree, but she faced great difficulty in finding a full-time job teaching. Our only source of income was unemployment benefits for several months," said Bigham.

The Massachusetts legislature created another source of income for struggling veterans — Chapter 115.

"Chapter 115 can provide monthly benefits ranging from a few dollars a month to over a thousand dollars a month," said Betsy Gwin, Harvard Legal Services Center.

The state auditor found Chapter 115 vastly underused.

"Between 2014 and 2016 fewer than 15,000 individuals received Chapter 115 benefits despite estimates that as many as 70,000 veterans and their dependents are likely to be eligible," said Gwin.

So why did so many veterans leave behind the benefits? Some assumed they weren't eligible while others felt overwhelmed by filling out paperwork. It's also likely that many didn't even know the benefits existed.

To remedy ignorance of Chapter 115, the state with the help of Harvard's Legal Services Center, launched a user-friendly Chapter 115 calculator, which asks a series of simple questions to determine eligibility for benefits.

"A lot of them were so surprised they go through this and see the end indicated that they were eligible for a few hundred dollars a month and just their eyes light up that money is out there for me. You know... I had no idea," said Julia Schutt, Harvard Legal Services Center.

Bigham says if only he had known about Chapter 115 five years ago, "just to help with simple things like food or electricity or bills," coming home would have been that much easier.

>> To learn more about Chapter 115 and to see if you're eligible, click here.