NJ veterans’ homes reforms advance, with one key bill excluded
TRENTON – A package of bills focused on the management of New Jersey’s veterans’ homes was endorsed this week by Senate and Assembly panels and appears likely to be sent to Gov. Phil Murphy this month.
The bills were negotiated by lawmakers and Murphy’s office and are supported by both parties. They do not include a December bill establishing an independent Office of Inspector General for Veterans’ Facilities – an exclusion the American Legion told lawmakers it would like to see corrected.
“We’re hopeful that this package will prevent a lot of the problems that these veterans’ nursing homes had in the past,” said Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, who chairs the Senate Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
“This is one of the special reasons we need an ombudsman to make sure that all of the things that we talked about today are actually put in place and then taken care of in the best manner, so if there’s something going wrong we should be aware of it,” said Assemblyman Cleopatra Tucker, D-Essex, who chairs the Assembly Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
Here’s what the package of bills includes:
- S3918/A5849 Requires Adjutant General of the Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs (DMVA) send weekly reports to Commissioner of Department of Health on status of veterans' homes in State during public health emergency.
- S3906/A5850 Requires DMVA veterans' memorial homes to hold quarterly town hall meetings with veterans' guardians.
- S3905/A5851 Allows veteran's guardian to remove veteran from DMVA veterans' memorial home under certain emergency circumstances.
- S3904/A5852 Requires DMVA veterans' memorial homes to communicate with veterans' guardians via at least two communication means.
- S3903/A5853 Requires administrator and assistant administrator at State veterans' memorial home have prior work experience in clinical setting.
- S3907/A5854 Requires position of resident advocate at each State veterans' memorial home.
- S3908/A5855 Requires DMVA veterans' facilities provide payroll-based journal information to NJ Long-Term Care Ombudsman.
- S3909/A5856 Requires Director of Division of Veterans' Healthcare Services in DMVA to have prior clinical and long-term care experience.
Some of those requirements, such as weekly reports and quarterly town hall meetings, are already underway or in development.
The Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs says 156 residents of veterans’ memorial homes and two staff members have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. The biggest problems took place early chaos of the pandemic, when personal protective equipment was in short supply.
Assemblyman Joseph Danielsen, D-Somerset, said the bill package is “a very positive start” but that more needs to be done in areas such as hiring at the veterans’ homes, increased salaries, full-time medical teams on-site rather than contract employees and adding infectious disease nurses.
“So, these are the issues needing our immediate attention to really improve the quality of life for our cherished veterans so that we never again have citizenry fall on our watch,” Danielsen said.
“This whole packet of bills has been very important,” said Assemblywoman Aura Dunn, R-Morris. “We saw the devastation that happened to our veterans’ homes, and hopefully that will not happen again because what we see here is – and what you said, communication is the key to everything. There was a lack of that communication, a lack of the transparency, which got everybody upset. And it shouldn’t have happened.”