BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — A “Supporting Our Veterans” license plate may soon become a visible sign of troop support on Bay State roads, thanks to a former Danvers resident who came up with the idea.
A portion of the proceeds from the $50 license plate fee will go to Danvers-based Operation Troop Support, along with other veterans groups statewide, said Danvers state Rep. Ted Speliotis.
The plate design was unveiled in a State House ceremony in July 2012.
The new license plate provision is part of a bill called Valor Act II, which contains several measures to support veterans.
This bill has passed both houses on Beacon Hill, but minor differences remain before it can be signed by Gov. Deval Patrick, said state Rep. Jerry Parisella, D-Beverly, vice chairman of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs.
Among other things, Valor Act II allows college students who are called up in the middle of a semester to avoid academic or financial penalties due to their military service, Parisella said.
There are a variety of special license plates that veterans can obtain — for ex-POWs, for example, and Pearl Harbor survivors — but none that the general public can buy to show support for veterans.
“Anyone who wants to support veterans can get this plate; that’s the beauty of it,” said former Danvers resident Mike McNulty, founder and CEO of the nonprofit Disabled and Limbless Veterans, who came up with the idea for the plate, which he said should be available by April 1. McNulty, now a Norwood resident, served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, he said.
“It’s a great victory,” said Speliotis, who added that there might be a public signing ceremony at the State House before Veterans Day on Monday.
The plate depicts a soldier holding an M16 rifle kneeling under a flag depicting the service medal ribbons of the nation’s three longest wars in the past 100 years: Afghanistan on top, Vietnam in the middle and Iraq on the bottom.
The soldier in the design “is taking a moment of silence for all of those who have died in those three wars,” McNulty said.
So far, 764 people have signed up to get the plate, which beat out seven competing designs with a similar theme of veterans support.
Speliotis said the legislative road for the plate was a bumpy one, however.
The problem was that lawmakers took McNulty’s idea for the plate and ran with it, but they changed which organizations might benefit from its sale. Originally, it would have benefited three groups, including Operation Troop Support; eventually, it wound up including organizations throughout the state.
“Their plate was treated as the consensus plate,” said Speliotis, who was involved in pushing an amendment that restored earmarks for Operation Troop Support and two other groups.
The program still sends out about 100 care packages a week to troops deployed overseas, said retired Air Force Lt. Col. Richard Moody, who founded Operation Troop Support about 10 years ago with his wife, Christine. The group’s recent mailing of 3,500 Christmas gifts to troops cost $30,000 in postage, Moody said.
Moody says he has mixed feelings about the legislative process, but in the end, he is thankful Operation Troop Support was included in the final bill and grateful for Speliotis’ help.
“If he didn’t do that, the alternative, it would have gone in without any ties to any organization,” Moody said, “and there would be no money earmarked for us at all.”
Parisella is a longtime Army reservist who served much of his freshman year as a state representative on active duty on a military base outside Baghdad, Iraq, as a prosecutor and legal adviser to a medical brigade. He is glad Operation Troop Support will benefit from the new plates.
“They sent me packages in Iraq,” Parisella said, “so I support them for all they do.”
To learn more about the “Supporting Our Veterans” plate, go to http://www.vvplates.org.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.