Bill gives veterans more runway to buy pension credits

Boston Statehouse

Bob Workman of Boston, a retired Marine Gunnery Sgt., and past commander of the Boston Police VFW, replaces flags at veteran’s graves ahead of Memorial Day on Thursday, May 27, 2021, in the Fairview Cemetery in Boston. After more than a year of isolation, American veterans are embracing plans for a more traditional Memorial Day. After more than a year of isolation, military veterans say wreath-laying ceremonies, barbecues at local vets halls and other familiar traditions are a welcome chance for them to reconnect with fellow service members and renew solemn traditions honoring the nation’s war dead. (AP Photo/Josh Reynolds)

BOSTON (SHNS) – A pair of harbormasters and Coast Guard veterans on Wednesday asked lawmakers to approve a bill they said would make things easier on veterans adjusting to civilian life and new government careers.

Massachusetts allows veterans working public jobs to purchase up to four years of credit toward their pension for their military service, as long as they do so no more than 180 days after they are notified they are eligible for the benefit.

A bill filed by the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission (H 11) would instead give veterans up to 11 years to make that decision.

“As you know, 10 years is the vesting period in our system,” PERAC Executive Director John Parsons told the Public Service Committee. “So after 10 years, our feeling is, that person’s made a decision to make a career out of public service.”

The bill also contains what Parsons described as “a one-year reprieve for any veterans already employed in Massachusetts who missed the 180 days prior in their career,” a measure he said a previous committee chairman, Rep. Jerald Parisella, had added in the past.

Parsons said veterans purchase the creditable service at a price of 10 percent of their annual salary, and would still pay the same amount under the bill.

Harwich Harbormaster John Rendon, who served 20 years in the Coast Guard, said having to make the decision to buy back time — and put together the money to do so — is difficult for veterans facing many unknowns as they try to get themselves and their families settled into a new lifestyle.

“Many young enlisted folks are in straight out of high school, and they serve their country for 20-plus years, and then they’re entering the workforce for the first time, and trying to navigate that significant life change, both from a financial standpoint [and] a family standpoint — trying to find schools, trying to find churches, trying to find places to live, trying to find employment,” he said. “I just think it’s unreasonable to think that they can make that decision within a six-month period when they’re trying to navigate their new stage in life.”

Sheila Lucey’s last assignment in her 24 years of active duty was Coast Guard Station Brant Point on Nantucket, and she told lawmakers that when she retired and became the island’s harbormaster, the high cost of living there meant she did not have the savings to do the buyback within the six-month window.

“I was actually on terminal leave, so I was still part of the Coast Guard for 90 of those 180 days, and making a decision that I was going to stay with the town of Nantucket for 20 years wasn’t one I was ready to make within 180 days,” she said. “The Coast Guard was all I knew.”

Rep. Ken Gordon, the committee’s House chair, asked Parsons if the bill would have any financial effects on public pension systems.

“Right now the boards may get the money a little bit earlier than they would get it under this bill, but the veterans pay the same amount that they would have paid under the old law,” Parsons said. “They’re just given more time to submit that money, so it’s not a concern of our actuary at all.”

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