Honoring veterans means more than just a ‘thank you’

April 7, 2020 | G. Michael Dobbs

There has been a change in American society towards military veterans that I’m sure many of you have noticed. When we find out someone is a vet many of us will say something along the lines of “Thank you for your service.”

It’s a nice gesture, but it is only a gesture.

For years many people have advocated on the behalf of veterans in terms of finding them the medical care and the housing they deserve. The effort has resulted in some victories, both on the legislative front and through work by private organizations.

The problem is there have not been enough victories.

I’ve gone numerous times to the Holyoke Soldiers Home over the past 20 years to cover stories. I’ve seen staff people who clearly care for the vets who are housed there.

I remember how the announcement that money would be spent to install air conditioning was huge, but at the same time, it made me wonder how those vets tolerated summers in that building. Why did this take so long?

The recent revelations are tragic, and go against the narrative of the American public supporting vets. Do we really care if this is what happens?

A few years ago several nurses approached me about doing a story about how they are treated there, but none would go on the record and there was no paper trail to support what they told me. I had one source I respected and trusted confirm what had been told to me, but then did not want to go on record.

It was very frustrating for me as a reporter, but I could not imagine how these health professionals felt – the word “frustrating” undoubtedly didn’t convey their feelings.

Problems at the home are nothing new.

In February of 2016, local legislators met with Gov. Charlie Baker about funding matters. In December 2015, the superintendent, the deputy superintendent and the chair of the board of trustees for the home all resigned. The Home did not have a financial officer.

The fact that all of these people had resigned, plus the fact there was no one there who was in charge of finances should have triggered some sweeping reforms and improvements.

Did the Home have what it needed in financial resources? Was the nursing staff treated poorly? Was the Home ready for the effects of COVID-19? We know the elderly are at risk of death from this disease, so I would like to think someone there was at least thinking about it.

Baker has announced there will be an investigation into the deaths at the Home and its response to COVID-19.

With this fresh in our mind, I can’t help but wonder the following:

Will the Commonwealth actually properly fund the Soldiers Home?

Will the Soldiers Home have an adequate staffing plan now?

Will that staff and administration be prepared for the next viral outbreak, as you know there will be?

What is the status of our nursing homes and assisted living facilities and their response to COVID-19?

If we really want to show respect to our veterans then the way to do it is to help them. We need to make sure vets have the medical care, the housing and the employment opportunities they have earned.   

This should not be a left or right issue. This is a payment owed to the people who were willing to lay down their lives for their country – for you and me.

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