I am deeply concerned by the disturbingly high COVID-19 case fatality rate at certain state-run veterans homes, where COVID-19 fatality rates for residents have been many times higher than the fatality rates of similar individuals elsewhere.
More than 80 percent of the residents of Paramus Veterans Home currently have COVID-19 – an alarming rate that far exceeds that of other states.
My heart goes out to these residents’ families, especially the spouses and children of our veterans, as well as all of our Gold Star families who have suffered once again because of this disease.
Public news reports that employees at one of these veterans homes did not receive information about an aide’s death are incredibly troubling. Moreover, we can and must do all we can to ensure that the staff at these facilities have adequate – if not exceptional – training in how to treat and isolate residents with positive COVID-19 diagnoses, as well as secure access to PPE to keep both themselves and residents safe.”
The newly appointed Acting Deputy Veterans Affairs Commissioner is now responsible for three veterans homes at Menlo Park, Paramus, and Vineland, which overall have the capacity to house and care for 964 veterans, veteran spouses, and Gold Star families. Members of my committee, along with veterans advocacy groups, have reached out to me in recent days to ensure that this serious issue is addressed thoroughly.
To do so, I implore the new Acting Deputy Commissioner to answer the following three questions publicly and promptly:
First, what steps must our state take to ensure that the tragedies that occurred in Paramus never happen again?
Second, how should our veterans homes plan for critical shortages of PPE and staffing, and how can we make sure that these plans are expansive and robust enough to reassure families and veterans organizations in the event of a spike or second wave of cases?
Thirdly, how will the state communicate the status and health of residents to their families, and how promptly will these communications be relayed?
In my capacity as Senate Chair of Military and Veterans Affairs, I look forward to hearing from the new Acting Deputy Veterans Affairs Commissioner on his plan in the days and weeks ahead to make sure that this trend is reversed at these veterans homes.
I appreciate Governor Murphy engaging our federal officials on this issue and his advocacy in securing a commitment from United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs Secretary Wilkie for 90 nurses to assist these homes, as well as all the work that Congressman Gottheimer has done in advocating strongly for our federal government to be engaged on this issue.
We are all in this together and we must ensure that those with relatives at these homes are secure in the knowledge that they are safe, and that those who have lost loved ones to this disease are assured that such a tragedy will never happen again.
State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch) is the chairman of the New Jersey Senate Senate Military & Veterans Committee, and the Senate Majority Conference Leader.