April 03, 2020

Warren, Markey, Neal, Pressley Address Disturbing Reports of Veteran Deaths at Massachusetts Soldiers' Homes

Lawmakers Seek Additional VA Resources to Stop Spread of COVID-19 and Prevent Similar Outbreaks at VA-Operated Long-Term Care Facilities Across the Commonwealth

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA), along with Representatives Richard E. Neal (D-MA-01) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-07), today wrote to Ryan Lilly, Director of the Veterans Affairs (VA) New England Healthcare System, expressing their concern about the disturbing reports of the deaths of veteran residents at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home (HSH) and the Chelsea Soldiers' Home (CSH). The lawmakers urged Mr. Lilly to obtain more resources to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic at these facilities and asked that he work closely with the VA Boston Healthcare System and the Governor's Office to appropriately hold Soldiers' Home officials accountable and ensure that VA-operated long-term care facilities in Massachusetts do not see similar outbreaks.

"We remain deeply concerned about the health and safety of veteran residents and staff at long-term care facilities across the Commonwealth," the lawmakers wrote. "Although we are encouraged by efforts underway to stop the spread at both facilities, the Soldiers' Homes, like VA facilities, hospitals and health care providers across Massachusetts, continue to lack desperately needed supplies and guidance."

Long-term care facilities-which house populations that are particularly vulnerable to this virus, such as the elderly and individuals with chronic health conditions-are of particular concern as we respond to the pandemic. VA long-term care facilities may be especially vulnerable as their patients are generally sicker and more likely to be male, both groups at particular risk from serious illness as a result of the virus.

In their letter, the lawmakers commended Governor Baker for appointing outside counsel to carry out an independent investigation of the circumstances that contributed to the coronavirus deaths at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home, and for deploying a clinical response team and the National Guard to test all HSH residents and staff. The lawmakers also expressed concern about the potential for further spread of coronavirus at the Chelsea Soldiers' Home and VA-operated facilities in the Commonwealth.

"Given the high-risk resident populations at both facilities and the shortages of medical supplies across the Commonwealth, we are concerned that Chelsea Soldiers' Home is on the path to a similar outbreak," the lawmakers wrote.

The lawmakers urged Mr. Lilly to work diligently to obtain more resources so that the Soldiers' Homes and VA health care facilities in Massachusetts have the resources to test, diagnose, and treat COVID-19 patients and to further mitigate the risk of infection to veterans and staff.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, Senator Warren has pressed the Trump administration to respond effectively to deliver the robust set of resources needed to address this emergency. She recently unveiled detailed plans to increase diagnostic testing nationwide, and sounded the alarm alongside Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) over the Trump administration's failure to deliver federal support for testing and care in Massachusetts. Earlier this month, she put out a plan for getting relief directly to workers, families, and small businesses, and has fought to prioritize federal aid for keeping workers on payroll and helping hospitals, states and localities respond to the crisis -- before bailing out giant corporations. The Senator also joined the Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee (SVAC) on a March 12, 2020, letter to the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) calling for additional resources to keep veterans and VA personnel safe from coronavirus.