Gov. Phil Murphy punted on questions of whether he wanted a special prosecutor to investigate deaths at veterans homes run by the state following stinging criticism from the head of the New Jersey Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“I did not see the comments by the state commander,” Murphy said about a public statement made by VFW leader Brian Wiener.
Murphy declined comment on Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Steinhardt’s pledge to name a special prosecutor if he’s elected next year.
“There’s all sorts of focus, whether it be legal focus, or other investigatory focus on this reality,” the governor said on Wednesday. “That’s something that is known and is ongoing.”
More than 7,000 residents and caregivers at long-term care facilities have died during the coronavirus pandemic, with nearly 200 reported deaths at the state’s veterans homes in Paramus and Menlo Park.
The spread of COVID-19 at the veterans homes drew fierce criticism from two Democratic congressmen, Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) and Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-Paterson).
In October, Gen. Jamal Beale was pushed out as Commissioner of Military and Veterans Affairs, and the heads of the Paramus and Menlo Park veterans homes were fired.
“We’ve made changes, and you saw those changes were aggressive in leadership and those were done for a reason.
He did voice support for those who have served in the military.
“God bless our veterans. I don’t know where our country would be without them,” Murphy said. “They have paid an enormous price. We hold them on a pedestal.”
But Murphy sidestepped a question about his timetable for filling vacant seats on the Veterans Memorial Home Advisory Council, something Wiener has pressed him to do.
Murphy acknowledged that long-term care residents were hit especially hard by the global pandemic.
“They’ve been clobbered in these three homes, as have other long-term care facilities around our state, around our country, including other veterans’ homes around our country,” he said.