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State Rep. James Arciero, a long-time member of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, has been named to a Special Legislative Committee studying the impact of Covid-19 on the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. The appointment was made by Speaker of the House Robert A. DeLeo. The Holyoke Soldiers’ Home was an epicenter of infection with the Covid-19 virus. Seventy-six veterans succumbed to the disease in the facility. In addition, many staff at the facility were exposed and infected as well.
“It is clear from the evidence and initial reports that something went terribly wrong at our Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke and that the management of the facility did not do right by the men and women who served us in uniform. I believe a legislative investigation into this matter is not only warranted but necessary. While Governor Baker’s investigation provides us with important information, we have to remember that the administration of the facility and the individuals involved were all appointees of the administration and I for one think an outside investigation into the facts is prudent and wise,” said Arciero.
State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell of Methuen and state Sen. Walter Timilty of Milton, who chair the Veterans Committee in the Massachusetts Legislature, have been named the chairs of the special legislative committee. While typically the Veterans Committee would review such matters, this special committee has been granted subpoena powers essential to collecting all the pertinent facts. With subpoena power, witnessed can be compelled to give testimony.
Following the disclosure of the Covid-19 impact on the soldiers home, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker ordered former federal prosecutor and attorney Mark Pearlstein to investigate the situation. This inquiry resulted in a 174-page report finding serious mismanagement. Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans’ Services, Francisco Urena was forced to resign his position over the incident and former Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Superintendent Bennett Walsh, who was on leave during the Pearlstein investigation, was permanently removed from his position.
Governor Baker filed a reform bill seeking to change the management and oversight of both the state’s soldiers’ homes in Holyoke and Chelsea following the findings of the Pearlstein report. The legislation had a virtual hearing before the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs on July 14. Several of those testify stated their opposition to moving forward without additional input and review of the facts of the soldiers’ home Covid-19 deaths.
“This can never happen again. Our veterans, especially in our care, and their families need to know that the Commonwealth will put nothing before their personal health and safety when they are residing in our soldiers homes. We can do better and I am sure that this investigation, under the strong leadership of Chair Linda Dean Campbell and Senator Timilty, will get to the bottom of the matter. I am sure that our findings will allow us to make those necessary changes to ensure that such a tragedy never again takes place,” said Arciero, who comes from a military family and has been advocate for veterans in the Massachusetts House.
In addition to Arciero, Rep. Campbell and Senator Timilty, also named to the special legislative committee were Assistant Majority Leader Joseph Wagner of Chicopee, Representative Ruth Balser of Newton, Representative Jerald Parisella of Beverly, Representative Christopher Markey of Dartmouth, Representative Aaron Vega of Holyoke, Rep. Michael Finn of West Springfield and Rep. Mind Domb of Amherst. House Republican Leader Brad Jones will name two appointees and the State Senate will appoint five additional members.