Today I continued making progress in the South-East region of the report. I finished the “Educational Benefits” section and was pleasantly surprised. After their disappointing performance in the other sections, I appreciated that the South-East states seemed to dedicate a significant amount of resources to helping their veterans take advantage of their educational opportunities. Particularly when it came to vocational and trade schools, the South-East states have numerous programs that helped veterans make the transition from the Active-Duty military to civilian professions.
The best programs were those that counted military certifications to meet civilian profession qualifications. The importance of such programs cannot be underestimated because many military service members have reached professional levels when it comes to skills like welding, truck driving, or warehouse management. To be able to not have to retake classes on skills they have already mastered not only saves resources but also allows the veterans to make as seamless of a transition as possible into the civilian workforce.
For most of the day I continued making progress on my research. I finished “Business, Tax, and Financial Benefits” and began researching “Educational Benefits.” Today was a busy day in the Senate with all of the Senators in formal session to debate some of the upcoming bills and to vote on various amendments.
I had the opportunity to sit in on the later afternoon portion of the Senate session and watch Senator Rush vote on a few of the amendments. It is always great to witness the debate and to sit in the chambers as the Senators vote.
I continued researching the South-East section in the morning before leaving to join the other Rappaport Fellows at 1:30pm. Today was one of the best Rappaport programming events we have done. Taking the green line from Park street to Kenmore, I met the other Rappaport fellows at Fenway park for what would be a tour of the historic stadium with the Red Sox General Counsel, Mr. Dave Friedman. Sporting a Red Sox emblem emblazed polo, Mr. Friedman was a smart and cool tour guide who wove the history of Fenway park and its relationship to Boston with his greater talk on the interaction between the public and private sector in regards to the law.
Mr. Friedman had started in state and local government before becoming the General Counsel to the Red Sox. During his talk, as we sat in the stadium watching the grounds crew prepare for the night’s game against Toronto, Mr. Friedman explained how the a privately run business like the Red Sox and Major League Baseball interact with state and local government. From bringing in significant revenue to the city’s hotels and restaurants with both Red Sox games and concerts, to hosting events to support wounded warriors, Fenway park and the Red Sox and deeply ingrained in the history and psyche of Boston. Mr. Friedman explained some of the more unique disputes and transactions he had been a part during his time as General Counsel and also explained how his background in state and local government had been helpful in allowing him to better understand his dealings with the city.
Overall, it was a spectacular tour and one of the best Rappaport programing events. It was great to see the overlap between the public and private sector. No matter what career as a lawyer or public policy maker any of the Rappaport fellows ultimately choose, it was great to see that one can still serve his or her community even if he or she is in the private sector.
Having read for the initial South-East region sections yesterday, I began writing. The first section for all of the regions is “Burial Benefits.” Nothing particularly elucidating came from this section. I also began writing the “Financial, Tax, and Business” benefits section and was disappointed in what I felt were significantly limited programs by the South-East states compared to Massachusetts. All of the South-East states have a minimum of six percent of the state’s population whom are veterans. I was disappointed because compared to the other regions I had previously analyzed, the South-East region did not offer a lot of programs that seemed to be standard in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions.
I am hoping that I will be proved wrong in the other sections. Although it is great to show Massachusetts as one of the best states in the country when it comes to veterans’ benefits, I, nevertheless, want all of the states to do well because veterans should be taken care of regardless of what state they choose to reside.
The week started off busy. There were only a few of us in the office as some of the staff were on summer vacation. I answered phone calls from constituents and assisted with other tasks. This morning I began working on the next section of my report—the South-East region of the country.
The South-East region includes the following nine states: (1) Kentucky; (2) Tennessee; (3) Louisiana; (4) Mississippi; (5) Alabama; (6) Georgia; (7) North Carolina; (8) South Carolina; and (Florida). I believe that this will prove to be a particularly interesting region because the majority of citizens who serve in the United States military hail from this region and because so many active-duty military bases are located in this region. These factors could lead one to believe that these states would have some of the better veterans’ benefits throughout the country.
My day was spent beginning the preliminary research on the section and outlining the sections that I would begin writing the rest of the week.
Today was dedicated to finishing the Mid-Atlantic section of my research project. I completed the accompanying PowerPoint presentation and began researching my next section, the South-East region, of the country. At over 40 pages, single-spaced, I have done my best to present as thorough of a report on Massachusetts veteran benefits as possible.
This morning, I finished the Mid-Atlantic section of my report on Massachusetts Veteran benefits compared to the nation and began working on the accompanying PowerPoint presentation. At 11am, I joined the other Senate Interns as we went into the House Chambers to listen to Speaker of the House, Robert A. DeLeo. We sat in the representatives’ chairs and stood as the Speaker entered the chamber. Speaker DeLeo thanked all of the interns for their work this summer in the State House and spoke about his vision for Massachusetts. After his speech, all of the interns joined the Speaker and the Senate President, Stanley Rosenberg, on the steps of the Grand Staircase for a professional photo.
In the afternoon, I attended the meeting of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal affairs. Senator Rush was chairing the meeting. Veteran advocacy groups testified in support of all of the bills and suggested additional amendments to a few of the bills.
Changing up the routine of afternoon Rappaport programming, this morning at 10am all of the Rappaport Fellows from both the Center and Institute met near Haymarket for our tour of “Vent Building 4.” Today’s Rappaport programming was with MBTA engineers and board members who would show the fellows the infrastructure below the city. “Vent Building 4” was one of the large structures that helped pump air into the tunnels that had been completed as part of the Boston’s “Big Dig” during the past decade.
Today’s program was the most exciting programming we’ve had, as before we could enter into the structure, we had to don hard hats and reflective vests. We were then taken almost 200 feet below the ground in a high-speed elevator to have an up-close look at the systems that ensure that the city will continue functioning in the case of an emergency.
Having the opportunity to walk around the giant fans and emergency energy systems was truly incredible. The “Big Dig” was a herculean task of incredible engineering that allowed Boston to expand its public transportation infrastructure. I believe that much of Boston’s recent business and residential boom can be attributed to the hard work that MBTA engineers and others put into making the such infrastructure.
While walking around the depths, we had the opportunity to peek out onto one of the tunnels form highway 93 and to hear traffic racing overhead. More than anything, I left with a much greater appreciation for what it takes for a city like Boston to function. It is so easy to take the city’s infrastructure for granted and I appreciated the opportunity to have a behind the scenes look at what makes my commute and daily life in Boston possible. From the public policy perspective, I appreciated how today’s conversations tied in the importance of infrastructure to what it means to develop and expand a community. Today’s programming showed first-hand the practical effects of positive legal and policy-level decision making.
After today’s programming, I came back to Senator Rush’s office and continued my research and writing. In the afternoon, I attended a meeting with John regarding small business owners requesting changes to current motorcycle classifications. It is interesting to see the overlap between the public and private sector and the advocacy for new legislation.
After a morning of continuing to write parts of the Mid-Atlantic research section, I attended the afternoon Senate Intern Speaker Series. Today’s speaker was Senator John Keenan of Norfolk and Plymouth. Senator Keenan serves as the Chair of the Senate Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures, and Senate Assets. Senator Keenan has also dedicated much of his recent work to combatting the opioid crisis currently affecting Massachusetts and much of the country.
Senator Keenan spoke about his journey to elected office. He had been involved with local campaigns from an early age and had participated in the “Boys State” program run by the American Legion. Senator Keenan emphasized, however, that there is no one path to elected office and he said that he appreciates that his Senate colleagues all come from different backgrounds and experiences. I appreciated Senator Keenan’s remarks and his encouragement to the other Senate interns to dedicate their careers to public service.
Today I continued my meetings with the Veteran Service Officers (VSOs) throughout Senator Rush’s district. In the morning, I continued my research and writing on the Mid-Atlantic section and then at 1pm drove to Dedham where I met with Mr. Bill Aitken. Mr. Aitken is the Veteran Service Officer for Dedham. He also helps veterans from the south-western Boston neighborhoods, including Roslindale and West Roxbury.
I spoke to Mr. Aitken for over an hour and learned about how he had become a Veteran Service Officer and what were the challenges he was currently facing. Mr. Aitken had served in the US Marine Corps and had been a VSO since 2010. I continued to be impressed with the Veteran Service Officer program because it truly provides a much needed service to Massachusetts veterans in their ability to navigate veteran’s benefits. Although some of the other states that I have researched so far have similar programs, no other state has a program as robust and extensive as the Massachusetts VSOs.