New director, Custer, provides update on veterans’ services

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 4/11/2019 9:50:20 PM

ATHOL — Sarah Custer provided her first quarterly report to the board of the Northeast Quabbin Veterans’ Services District Tuesday, two months after taking over as the district’s director. Custer assumed the position on February 7, succeeding former director Fedencia Fitch, who held the job for 20 months.

The NQVSD serves veterans in the towns of Athol, Orange, Petersham, Phillipston, and Royalston.

Custer reported she currently is carrying a caseload of 49 clients receiving benefits under Chapter 115, which provides financial assistance to veterans for a variety of needs. Custer explained it covers such items as home heating fuel, medications, job-search assistance, and benefits to widows/widowers and other dependents.

Before receiving fuel assistance, Custer explained, veterans must first deplete all other fuel assistance obtained through such agencies as the New England Farm Workers Council. Fuel assistance under Ch. 115 is limited to $500.

“We had a couple of terminations,” Custer told the board, “and a couple of additions, people transferring from one town to another. So, they would be terminated in Orange and then be added to Athol.”

Currently, Custer is serving 27 veterans from Athol, 21 from Orange, and one from Petersham. In addition, 59 clients were denied Ch. 115 benefits and another 131 had benefits terminated.

Custer also projects each of the five towns in the district will end the fiscal year with money left in its veterans’ services budget. It’s anticipated that Athol will end up spending just over $164,000 of the $210,000 budgeted for the current fiscal year. Orange will likely spend about $98,000 of the $120,000 set aside in the budget for its veterans. Petersham will have spent only about $1,900 of its $9,000 veterans’ budget, Phillipston is projected to spend around $6,400 of its $10,500 spending package, and Royalston will probably the end FY19 without having spent any of its $10,500 line-item for veterans.

“I do get clients in from (Royalston),” said Custer. “They just don’t go on Ch. 115 benefits. That’s why you wouldn’t see them on here, because this is just Ch. 115 specific.”

Property Tax Exemption

Custer also informed the board of a benefit available to veterans that most may be unaware of.

“There’s a 100 percent property tax exemption,” she said. “That’s reimbursed to the town 100 percent. So, if an individual dies from a service-connected illness or injury, their spouse is entitled to 100 percent property tax exemption and the state will reimburse that at 100 percent. That goes for the parents, Gold Star mothers, it could be adoptive parents, spouses.”

“Prior to my coming here, I did have a gentleman I worked with whose wife died from a service-connected disability and qualified for this,” said Custer. “I don’t see it very often. I don’t think people know about it.”

Custer also told the board that the burial allowance for veterans has increased to $4,000.

Athol Treasurer Tammy Coller also provided the board with an update on the finances of the NQVSD. Her report indicated the district began the year with just over $78,000 in its account, including a carry-over of about $12,000 from FY18. Of that total, $56,000 has been spent, leaving a current balance of approximately $22,000 for the remainder of the current fiscal year.


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