The Honorable Walter F. Timilty, Senate Chair
The Honorable Linda Dean Campbell, House Chair
Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs
State House, Boston

Dear Senator Timilty, Representative Campbell, and Members of the Committee,

On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association appreciates the opportunity to submit the following comments on bills before your Committee at today’s hearing, and we greatly appreciate the Committee’s consideration of the local government position regarding these important policy matters concerning veterans.

Commission on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
The MMA requests that the Committee amend S. 2164, An Act establishing a Commission on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), filed by Senator Finegold and others, to include a member of the Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) and a member of the Massachusetts Municipal Management Association (MMMA) on the Commission. It is essential that the perspective of municipal employers be included on the Commission, which is why we request adding the MMA and MMMA.

Municipal employers share the goals enumerated in S. 2164 with respect to the municipal workforce, including the exploration of advancements in PTSD treatment and diagnosis, access to care for diagnosed individuals, strategic planning to improve health outcomes, and improving public awareness, mental health care delivery, and early and accurate diagnosis.

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that occurs in people who witness or experience traumatic events. The majority of PTSD cases occur together with another psychiatric disorder, such as depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders and substance abuse. PTSD symptoms may include nightmares, flashbacks, avoidance of people, places or situations, feeling unhappy, negative thoughts, and irritability. PTSD also impacts the ability to perform in the workplace, with greater rates of work absenteeism, difficulty meeting work demands, problems with concentration and organization, more medical visits, and an increased risk of unemployment. According to the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, the prevalence of PTSD among military service personnel may be as high as 34%, with women and minorities at an increased risk.

These factors and manifestations of PTSD have direct connections to the workplace. As employers, municipalities frequently hire veterans for public safety positions and other local government roles. Because of this, it is imperative that municipal management officials have adequate representation on the commission.

Municipal employers are responsible for a wide array of benefits and systems that can be used to address the challenges presented by PTSD, including the provision of health insurance and employee assistance programs, administration of the state’s injured-on-duty, and personnel laws, implementation of modified work schedules, disability retirement, and more. In addition, municipal officials are required to manage these benefits within available resources and budgets, in a manner that is transparent and accountable to the taxpayers.

Adding two municipal seats to the commission would ensure that cities and towns are appropriately recognized and engaged as essential stakeholders. Municipal employers should be involved in planning and developing recommendations that can lead to better outcomes for employees diagnosed with PTSD. Further, it is hard to imagine that the commission could be fully successful without a complete understanding of the municipal perspective, and the experience and expertise that municipal employers would bring.

We ask the Commission to amend S. 2164 to include two municipal seats as described above.

Retirement Benefits for Veterans
The MMA strongly opposes S. 2179, An Act relative to retirement benefits for veterans, filed by Senator Tarr and others, which would credit members of retirement systems with up to four years of active service in the U.S. armed forces, and establish a ratio for credit of five years of guard or active reserve status to one year of active service. The MMA strongly opposes this bill, as there has been no actuarial analysis of the cost impact on local retirement systems and taxpayers. As you know, nearly every retirement system is struggling with large unfunded liabilities, and pension payment obligations are crowding out available funding for key municipal and school services. By definition, this bill would add new unfunded obligations to every municipal retirement system in Massachusetts, and would clearly increase the unfunded ratio of every system, placing a heavier financial burden on local taxpayers. We ask the Commission to oppose S. 2179.

If you have any questions or need additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me or MMA Senior Legislative Analyst Lisa Adams at (617) 426-7272 at any time.

Thank you very much.

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director & CEO