By: Rep. Linda Dean Campbell – March 2022
I have joined House Minority Leader Brad Jones and several of my colleagues in a bipartisan call for the immediate divestment of state pension funds that are tied to Russian-owned companies. We must join the international community in taking action to counter Russia’s tyrannical attack on Ukraine. Putin has miscalculated based upon our weak response to Syria – it is a critical miscalculation that has reenergized democracies around the world. As a result, we have the opportunity to ensure that good can come from the devastating suffering of the Ukrainian people. It will require sacrifice on our part – but democracy is on the line.
Recently, it was well publicized that I voted against the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home reform bill brought forth by House leadership and passed by the House. I owe you an explanation.
My reason for doing so is that this bill is fundamentally different than the bill filed by myself and Senator Mike Rush (a fellow Veteran) following the investigation of the Legislature’s Special Committee on the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home COVID-19 Outbreak.
Our original bill addressed all recommendations resulting from the Special Committee’s months-long investigation, while the bill passed by the House departs from these recommendations on many fronts.
Like the Inspector General (IG) of the Commonwealth, I have serious concerns about the bill passed by the House. The IG stated in written comments that: “the Office finds that the current and proposed structure for the governance and oversight of the Homes are flawed.”
In my view, elected officials send members of the armed forces to war, and these citizens put their lives on the line for us. It follows, then, that elected officials must be responsible for Veteran care, and that authority and accountability for their care must be crystal clear.
The tragedy in Holyoke resulted in large part from a chain of command that was not clear but muddled; a superintendent that should have been fired earlier but was not; and a superintendent that was not qualified to serve as superintendent of a long-term care facility.
In the bill filed following the Special Committee’s investigation, Senator Rush and I took great pains to establish a clear chain of command from the superintendents to the Office of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to the Governor. In the original bill, we gave the Governor clear official authority to appoint and fire the superintendent. The bill passed by the House grants this authority to a Veterans’ Homes Council and does not speak to the authority and accountability of the Governor and the Veterans Secretary.
I agree with the IG that one person must be accountable for the superintendent, and that should be the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and that unless the Legislature clarifies, “there will be no direct accountability for the superintendent.”
Also in the original bill, the current Secretary of Veterans’ Services (who functionally serves as a Commissioner, not a Secretary) was elevated to a Secretary of Veterans Affairs with a seat in the Governor’s cabinet, ensuring a direct line of communication to the Governor. The bill passed by the House does not include this critical provision.
Finally, the original bill created a statewide Veterans’ Homes Council that required specific expertise and representation from the full Veteran community. In our original bill, we ensured council members would be qualified in the areas of financial management, health care administration, clinical services, labor relations, and more.
We further called for participation by a female Veteran, minority Veteran, LGBTQ Veteran, and Veterans that served in various conflicts, ensuring the full Veteran community has a voice. The bill passed by the House creates a statewide council with none of these provisions or qualifications and further gives the majority of seats on the council to the local trustees for each Home, who would essentially hold veto power. This is an ineffective model and does not ensure statewide representation – the Soldiers’ Homes are for all Veterans in the Commonwealth, not just Veterans located geographically near to the Homes.
I look forward to working with all as these important discussions continue. We must pass legislation that will create effective governance and oversight of our Soldiers’ Homes – this is what our Veterans and their families deserve.
State Representative Linda Dean Campbell represents the cities of Methuen and Haverhill in the State Legislature. She serves as House Chair of the Joint Committee on Advanced IT, the Internet and Cybersecurity. She can be reached at Linda.Campbell@mahouse.gov or (617) 722-2676. ◊