On last Wednesday House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and Rep. RoseLee Vincent along with their colleagues in the House of Representatives passed two pieces of legislation to improve the mental health care for student veterans and to honor the military service contributions of a female American Revolutionary War soldier – days before the nation celebrates Veterans Day on Nov. 11.
One bill establishes a continuing education program – administered by the University of Massachusetts Medical School – to train public higher education counselors on the symptoms of conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and available resources for treatment for veterans attending state colleges and universities. The legislation aims to provide the necessary training for both clinical and non-clinical counselors working to support the unique needs of the more than 2,500 veteran students attending the state’s 29 public higher education institutions.
The second bill establishes a 15-member commission to design a memorial in honor of Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man in order to serve in the Continental Army. The commission will consist of legislators, the Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Services, the Adjutant General of the Commonwealth, and representatives of veteran organizations.
“We’re proud today to take action to further support and recognize veterans for their service and sacrifice to our country, especial those who are students and may be suffering from the invisible wounds of war,” said Speaker DeLeo, (D – Winthrop). “By building a memorial to recognize the contributions and bravery of Deborah Sampson, we send a deserving message of validation and support for our past, present and future female service members. I thank Chair Campbell for her thoughtful and diligent work on these issues.”
“As we mark Veterans’ Day, I am proud that the House has once again passed legislation which will benefit those who served our country valiantly in our Armed Forces, particularly in helping to identity and address the mental wellbeing of student veterans in the Commonwealth,” said Rep. RoseLee Vincent (D-Revere). “As we honor our veterans, I thank those who served, and I also thank Speaker DeLeo and Chairwoman Dean Campbell for their commitment to ensuring Massachusetts continues to rank number one in the nation for veterans’ services.”
“Training counselors at our institutions of higher learning to be familiar with the challenges that veterans face during the transition from active duty and combat to civilian life, and to assist them when the going gets tough, will greatly enhance the chances of a veteran completing their program of study and leading a productive civilian life,” said Veterans and Federal Affairs Chair Representative Linda Dean Campbell (D-Methuen). “Deborah Sampson has been recognized nationally as being an inspiration to us all. Hers is a Massachusetts story that deserves to be told far and wide.”
In 1782, Sampson used the name Robert Shurtleff to join the elite Fourth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment led by Captain George Webb at West Point, N.Y. Over the following year and a half, she participated in dangerous scouting missions, led a raid that brought about the capture of 15 Tory men, and stormed a British fort during the Siege of Yorktown.
Over the course of her service, Sampson sustained injuries including a forehead gash from a sword and a gunshot wound to the thigh. For the latter, she removed the bullet herself to avoid detection as a woman. When she later fell seriously ill and was hospitalized, her identity was discovered. On Oct. 23, 1783, she received an honorable discharge and was the only woman to receive a full military pension for her service in the Continental Army. John Hancock and Paul Revere assisted her in obtaining her military pension, and General John Patterson selected her as his aide de camp due to her bravery and leadership. Sampson is the official state heroine of Massachusetts.
The two bills build on the House’s long-standing support for veterans with Massachusetts benefits and services often ranked as No. 1 in the nation. Most recently the legislature passed the BRAVE Act as well as legislation to assist veterans with funeral and burial expenses and property taxes.
The bills will now go to the Senate.