Major General Jemal J. Beale has resigned as New Jersey Adjutant General and Commissioner of Military and Veterans Affairs after facing strong criticism for his handling of deaths at two state-run veterans homes during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Phil Murphy has named Col. Lisa Hou, a physician and the deputy commission of Veterans Affairs, to replace Beale on an interim basis.
The Murphy administration is also replacing the administrators at state veterans homes in Paramus and Menlo Park as part of a major overhaul of the state agency.
Beale, who was nominated for his post by Murphy in 2018, was eased out of his post, the New Jersey Globe has learned.
Also out: Sean Van Lew, the director of the Division of Veterans Healthcare Services.
Several top political leaders had called for the resignations of the CEOs at the veterans homes in Paramus and Menlo Park, alleging that lax infection control procedures, training and poor leadership decisions allowed COVID-19 to spread quickly through the state facilities where veterans live.
“Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, despite significant challenges, DMAVA has worked to save lives and support our veterans,” Murphy said. “Having served as a Field Surgeon in Iraq and Afghanistan during the height of the conflicts and as a respected medical professional, Dr. Hou will provide invaluable leadership during the ongoing pandemic. We wish General Beale the best in his future endeavors.”
Hou becomes the first woman to occupy the Adjutant General position, and the first Asian American.
Murphy also announced that Brigadier General Patrick M. Kennedy, current Assistant Adjutant General, will serve as deputy Adjutant General.
Col (Ret.) Walter R. Nall, currently serving as the acting deputy Commissioner for Veterans Affairs, will take on the additional responsibilities of the Director of the Division of Veterans Healthcare Services, replacing Van Lew.
Hou is a New Jersey Army National Guard veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. She joined the National Guard in 1994 while attending medical school. Her specialty is specialty is in otolaryngology/facial plastic surgery.
The Monmouth County resident served as commander of the Medical Command and the State Surgeon from 2013 to 2018.
Hou served in Afghanistan as a field surgeon for Charlie Company, 700th Brigade Support Battalion, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in 2011. From 2005 to 2006, Hou served in Iraq. She was a senior field surgeon for Echo Company, 50th Main Support Battalion, 42nd Infantry Division.
“It is an honor to be called upon to lead one of the greatest battles our department has ever faced,” Hou stated. “Protecting our veterans and supporting our military personnel will be my priority today, and every day. We must all work together to defeat this pandemic and I am committed to doing everything possible to the lead the Department and the National Guard through this difficult period of time.”
Six Democratic legislators said that the changes at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs was “a positive step in th right direction.”
“As a result of what happened at these homes, the public has lost total confidence – as have we. These individuals at DMVA were in charge when the Covid-19 pandemic swept through New Jersey’s state-run veterans homes, causing 190 deaths, including 101 veterans at the Menlo Park home, and 80 at the Paramus home. This was a terrible loss of life accompanied by the grief and suffering of residents and their families,” said Senate Health Committee Chairman Joseph Vitale (D-Woodbridge), Senate Military and Veterans Affairs Chair Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch), Assembly Military and Veterans Affairs Chair Cleopatra Tucker (D-Newark), State Sens. Joseph Lagana (D-Paramus) and Patrick Diegnan (D-South Plainfield), and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood). “We need to hold leadership accountable, especially in the face of a deadly pandemic.”
This story was updated at 1:12 PM with comment from Murphy, and at 9:33 PM with comment from several legislators.