By: State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell – June, 2022
In the Massachusetts Legislature, we are continuing to work diligently to bring accountability and reform to our Soldiers’ Homes. Comprehensive reform legislation I filed with Senator Mike Rush (a fellow Veteran) is currently in the final leg of the process.
When a very different bill came before the House, it was well publicized that I voted against the version brought forth by House leadership. My reason for doing so was that the House bill was fundamentally different than the original bill Senator Rush and I filed, in ways that could exacerbate governance issues at the Soldiers’ Homes. Our original bill addressed all recommendations resulting from the months-long legislative investigation Senator Rush and I co-chaired – but the House bill departed from these recommendations on many fronts.
The House bill would have created a muddled chain of command with overlapping local and statewide entities and no clear oversight authority for the Secretary of Veterans’ Services. Further, it would not have required full representation of the Veteran community on the statewide Veterans’ Homes Council.
Fortunately, the bill that passed the Senate aligns much more closely with our original legislation and the results of our legislative investigation. I am optimistic that the final negotiated bill will lead to effective governance and oversight of our Soldiers’ Homes to prevent a future tragedy like the one we witnessed in the spring of 2020. The goal is to finalize this legislation by mid-summer – we must get this right for our Veterans.
Recently, the state’s Inspector General Glenn Cunha released his report and recommendations regarding the tragedy at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home and its causes. His report reinforces the results of our legislative investigation – that leadership failures on many fronts contributed to the tragedy and that a clear chain of command and streamlined oversight mechanisms are necessary to reform the Homes. I am grateful for the Inspector General’s support and expertise on this critical matter.
The Legislature has also authorized $400 million in state bond funding to reconstruct the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. This funding will allow us to access 65% reimbursement from the federal government and will result in a modern, state-of-the-art facility that is equipped to provide our Veterans with the highest quality of care.
Additionally, the Baker administration has agreed to a $56 million settlement to compensate families of Veterans at the Home who passed away from COVID-19.
Families will each be compensated $400,000, and Veterans at the Home who contracted the virus and recovered will each be compensated $10,000. No sum can undo the preventable tragedy in Holyoke and the heartbreak experienced by so many – but for many families, this settlement provides a much-needed acknowledgement of the suffering they have endured.
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. ◊