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Gubernatorial candidate Setti Warren discussed his plan for veterans on Thursday as he makes a visit to Soldier On.

Gubernatorial Candidate Warren Wants to Increase Veterans Secretary Role

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Warren chats with the veterans at Soldier On.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — If Setti Warren is elected governor, he wants a veteran sitting in his cabinet.
The Newton Democrat has put forth a proposal to pull the veterans services secretary job out from under Health and Human Services and provide veterans with their own seat at the table.
"I believe we need to build on the success and create a veterans affairs secretary and military families at the full cabinet level. This cabinet secretary will report directly to the governor and be integrated into all of the decisions being made," Warren said on Thursday when he stopped in at Soldier On.
The plan would be to create a secretary for veterans and military families. The Newton mayor said his veteran services officer answers directly to him and it has worked out well. He said it has increased accountability and allows veterans to have input on decisions that are often made without them.
"I believe it knocks down some silos in government," Warren said. "Massachusetts is a leader in the country in veterans issues and I want to build on those strengths."
Soldier On President Jack Downing was particularly intrigued by it because when it comes to decisions about transportation or other issues, ways to smooth out providing services for veterans aren't thought about until it is too late.
Three years ago, Soldier On received a $2 million transportation grant from the Federal Transit Administration. The non-profit had partnered with the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority to provide rides for veterans to such things as doctors appointments.
However, Soldier On can't expand that to other parts of the state. It has to work with each regional transit authority on a new program.
"We have to go region by region because there is nobody sitting at the table with the governor saying, hey governor we have this transportation bill why can't we tie into all these FTA grants?" Downing said.
He added, "It is not that people don't want to do it, we just weren't at the front of the planning." He hopes that the process of providing transportation for veterans can be a whole lot smoother.
When it comes to family services, Downing said often families can get lost in the programs. Somebody overseeing that at a higher level can help craft policies that work better for providing those services.
"They fall through cracks in terms of income for social welfare programs. They have special needs that have to be met and it is very difficult to get there," Downing said. 
Warren sees the new secretary position as one to weigh in on all of those decisions. Whether it be transportation or education or housing, Warren wants more input from the veterans.
"This will build on the success we have had here in Massachusetts," Warren said.
The candidate has a particular interest in veterans affairs because he is the third generation in his family to serve. He enlisted in the Navy Reserve after the World Trade Center attack and served nine years. In 2007, he was deployed to Iraq.
"My dad was a veteran. I'm an Iraq War veteran. My daughter was born during my deployment. I know a lot of service members that faced challenges," Warren said.
He emphasized, however, that Massachusetts is providing excellent services for veterans now. He just wants to enhance that even further.
Warren is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor. He is one of three Democratic candidates who have tossed their hats into the ring to challenge Republican Gov. Charlie Baker next year. The others are Bob Massie and Jay Gonzalez.

Tags: Democrat,   election 2018,   state election,   

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Starr Williams: A BCC Success Story

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Starr Williams gives the valedictory speech at Berkshire Community College's 2019 commencement.
"I like to be a statistic breaker," says Soncere "Starr" Williams. That's putting it mildly. At age 40, Williams, Berkshire Community College's 2019 valedictorian, has overcome more obstacles than most people would in a lifetime. Once a high school dropout, she is the product of an abusive foster home who entered into a dark world of substance abuse, mental illness, and juvenile crime. Today, she's an outspoken advocate for the underprivileged — and she's headed to Columbia University for a master's degree in social work (MSW).
"I come from poverty. I come from a place where people don't succeed, because there are far too many barriers to climb over. It's one of the reasons I'm in social work," says Starr, who graduated BCC with a perfect 4.0 GPA, earning an associate's degree in human services and an addiction recovery assistant certificate before transferring to Elms College in Chicopee. She will graduate from Elms in a few weeks with a bachelor's degree in social work, once again earning a 4.0 GPA, before beginning classes at Columbia this summer.
Getting accepted into an Ivy League school still has Starr pinching herself. "The fact that I'm going to have an MSW from Columbia University still kind of feels like, no, this isn't happening, this is a dream," she says. "People like me are told, 'You're not going to be anything.' When you grow up in that in that environment, you're pegged as going nowhere for the rest of your life. Now, I'm going to have an Ivy League education, and I did it on my own."

Climbing out of the depths

Starr credits many mentors along the way for helping her succeed. Most recently, she has been working with Celia Clancy, president and CEO of Berkshire Business and Professional Women, who has been cheering her on through the application process and sent her an enthusiastic note of congratulations upon learning of her acceptance to Columbia. At BCC, mentors included Assistant Dean of Students Beth Wallace (now retired), Professor of Human Services Kari Dupuis, Associate Professor of Human Services Pamela Coley McCann, and Professor of Sociology Stacy Evans. "They are amazing individuals who are there to support their students," Starr says, recalling many after-hours conversations with Evans. "We talked about climbing out of the depths of poverty and addiction and how hard that is. She gets it."
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