Governor Announces Veterans Equality Review Board

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BOSTON — In a move to honor the rights and service of veterans discharged under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy, Governor Maura T. Healey today swore in five members to the newly established Veterans Equality Review Board (VERB). 
VERB's goal is to provide an application process for certain veterans who received an "other than honorable discharge" under DADT and recommend their eligibility for state-based veteran benefits. 
"Today is a historic milestone for Massachusetts veterans, service members, and their families," said Governor Maura Healey. "The creation of the Veterans Equality Review Board underscores our commitment to righting the wrongs of the past and supporting LGBTQ+ veterans who have served our nation with pride and honor. I'm grateful for the efforts of Secretary Santiago and his team to help ensure that these veterans receive the support and benefits they deserve." 
The responsibilities of VERB include: 
  • Reviewing applications submitted by veterans who believe they received an "other than honorable discharge" due to their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. 
  • Providing recommendations to the Secretary of Veterans Services on granting state-based veterans benefits to applicants. 
  • Ensuring that veterans who qualify for benefits can access the support they need. 
The application process for veterans seeking benefits through the VERB is straightforward and accessible. Veterans can submit their applications online through the EOVS website, which provides clear instructions and lists all required documentation. 
VERB was created as part of the Fiscal Year 2023 budget to rectify historical injustices faced by LGBTQ+ veterans who served our nation under the restrictive DADT policy. The Board consists of five members: three appointed by the Secretary of the Executive Office of Veterans Services and two appointed by the Governor. These members will serve five-year terms and play a crucial role in ensuring veterans receive the support and benefits they deserve. 
"Twelve years after the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the unfortunate truth is that many service members are still impacted by this policy and many of them call Massachusetts their home," said Senator John Velis, the Senate Chair of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs and sponsor of this policy in the FY23 budget. "The work of the Veterans Equality Review Board is all about ensuring that LGBTQ veterans across the Commonwealth have the same access to benefits and services that their fellow veterans have. This is a historic day and I am grateful to the Healey-Driscoll Administration, and my partners in the Legislature, for their commitment to doing right by our service members."  
The five members of VERB, each with diverse backgrounds and expertise, are dedicated to ensuring fair treatment and support for veterans who endured discrimination and hardship due to their service under the DADT policy: 
Claire Burgess, PhD: Clinical Psychologist at VA Boston Healthcare System, LGBTQ+ Postdoctoral Fellow, and Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School. 
Cliff Brown: Army veteran, Project Manager, Home Base, Massachusetts National Guard member. 
Lynette Gabrila: Army veteran, Director of Veterans Services for the Wachusett District, actively involved in charitable organizations and causes. 
Christine Serpe, PhD: Staff Psychologist at VA Boston Healthcare System and Assistant Professor at Boston University Chobanian and Avedisian School of Medicine. 
Rachel McNeill: U.S. Army Reserves veteran, veteran advocate, and community organizer. 
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Toys For Tots Providing for Thousands of Berkshire County Kids

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

Piles of toys being sorted for age and gender in the Toys for Tots drive. More than 3,500 children are expected to receive toys through the program this year. 

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Thousands of local kids will have presents to open this holiday season thanks to the Marine Corps' annual Toys For Tots collection.

The Berkshire County House of Correction's storage building looked more like Santa's workshop as a dozen volunteers sorted mountains of toys for ages newborn to 14.  

"Everything's going great," Berkshire County coordinator Christopher Keegan said. "How could it not?"

Last year, about 3,500 kids received toys and Keegan expects that number to be surpassed this year. The state Department of Children and Families, one of more than 20 participating agencies, has more than a thousand sign-ups alone.  

Individuals also register with Keegan directly and online.

For nearly a decade, he has seen more and more tots needing toys during the holiday season. Between 2021 and 2022, the receiving list increased by around 800 kids.

Unwrapped toys are collected through boxes placed in businesses, schools, and other public spaces. There were more than 240 boxes this year and they were collected on Tuesday to be sorted by gender and age groups.

The drive sees everything from dolls and toy trucks to a Little Tikes basketball hoop and donations are still coming in. Shoppers fill any gaps with funds that are raised through events like the Toys For Tots musical bingo, which was a great success this year.

Keegan's yearly goal is to honor every request for toys. There are many returning volunteers who collect, pack, shop for, and deliver the presents — sometimes up until Christmas Eve.

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