CHELSEA (CBS) — The flags outside the Soldiers’ Homes in Chelsea and Holyoke are flying at half staff. Veterans’ groups say this is the only sign of respect that has been shown to the families of those who died from coronavirus at the homes.
“You can’t be respected if you’re not getting answers,” said Commander Deb Olson, of Massachusetts Disabled American Veterans.
Disabled American Veterans is renewing their calls for the removal of Veteran’s Affairs Sec. Francisco Urena. In a May 15 letter to the governor, the group said Urena has not offered families his condolences or help with benefits.
“We don’t feel that right now, because of the investigations, the secretary can be effective,” Olson said. “Because of that, the families aren’t getting the right answers”
There are at least three ongoing investigations into the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. The I-Team learned Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins is investigating the Chelsea facility where 30 have died, including 91-year-old Anthony Griffin. His son John Griffin told State Police detectives he wasn’t happy with the care his father had been getting.
“Being a veteran, he survived so much and this is what he succumbed to? They didn’t do their job protecting him,” John Griffin said.
Sources say even after a kitchen worker tested positive for COVID-19, the Chelsea home was still allowing residents to leave the building and eat in the dining room.
Letters obtained by the I-Team show the facility notified staff about the infected employee on March 18 and said it was cleaning and taking precautions. But that didn’t stop the spread, and less than two weeks later, on March 31, employees were told of the first death.
“The Office of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should be responsible for making sure that our veterans who pass in the Soldiers’ Homes are laid to rest with the dignity that they have earned,” Olson said.
The Governor’s office did not directly respond to our request for comment on the removal of Urena. A spokesperson for the secretary told us he was unavailable for an interview.