Hero Marine and Purple Heart recipient, Francisco Urena resigned last month as Governor Baker’s Secretary of Veteran Affairs. He didn’t actually resign, he resigned the way most people in government resign: he was told to come in for a meeting with the Governor, was met by his flunkies upon arrival, and then handed a resignation letter just waiting for his signature.
At issue was the fact that over 100 of our hero veterans at the Old Soldier’s Nursing Home in Holyoke died from the coronavirus. The head of the nursing home in Holyoke was not appointed to the job by Urena, and didn’t answer to Urena. He was, in fact a political friend of the governor who was appointed by Baker despite the fact that he has no real qualifications to run a nursing home.
He is answerable to a board of directors, who did nothing as the Baker Administration put more seniors with covid-19 into the facility. A facility that had – at best- inadequate precautions, no PPE, and no plan to save these elderly heroes now in his care.
Because this scandal hit the Boston and national press – and ONLY because it hit the press – someone was going to have to take the fall to make the embarrassing headlines go away for Charlie Baker.
He commissioned an investigation, which lead to a report that was tailor written to blame Urena, so that everyone involved in the actual neglect and mismanagement of the Old Soldiers Home would pay no real price at all. The report made no mention of the fact that Urena had no say over the administration of the nursing home, in fact, the report made it look as if Urena had full responsibility for what happened in Holyoke despite the actual facts.
Despite his bungling of the RMV scandal, a Department of Children and Families out of control, and a propensity to cover up scandals rather than fixing the problems that resulted in scandal, we have long defended Governor Baker.
What he and his administration did to Iraqi War hero Francisco Urena is not something we can ignore or defend.
We remember Francisco Urena back in 2006 during the massive floods in Lawrence. The day he returned from Iraq he heard a news report about the flood, dropped off his luggage and his gear at home, and immediately went to the make shift tents for flood victims to see what he could do to help.
He was soon tapped by Lawrence Mayor Michael Sullivan to be Lawrence’s Veterans’ Services Officer (VSO) where he worked tirelessly with local veterans to make sure they received the benefits they were due, housing and food if needed, and went out of his way, day or night, to help a veteran in crisis.
From there Urena was hired by Mayor Menino in Boston to be the city’s VSO before finally being elevated by Governor Baker as the cabinet level Secretary of Veterans Services for the state.
Never in any of that time was Urena ever accused of neglecting his duties.
Francisco Urena is someone who always put his community and the well-being of our veterans above everything else. To publicly blame him for the gross neglect and political hackery that lead to the 100+ veterans dying from the Coronavirus is a disgraceful miscarriage of justice. It is something we expected from the Deval Patrick Administration but never thought we would see from someone like Charlie Baker.
Forcing Urena to resign in disgrace for the failures of this administration cannot go unanswered.
We call on President Trump and his Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilke to do a complete management audit and criminal investigation into what really happened at the Old Soldiers Home in Holyoke. Those responsible must pay a real price and those blamed for mismanagement of others (like Urena) must be publicly exonerated.
We owe it to the veterans who died, and their families, to know the truth. Not doing so, dishonors the service and sacrifice of every veteran who has ever served our nation. ◊