TRENTON, N.J. – Protecting vulnerable veterans in state-run homes is a top priority for Assemblyman Ron Dancer who introduced several bills on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day that advance veterans’ safety, health and housing.
His first bill (A5108) would create an independent inspector general to investigate complaints concerning policies and procedures at state facilities for veterans. Upon appointment, the inspector general would look into policies and practices that may have caused or contributed to the high number of deaths in state-run veterans homes during the Covid-19 pandemic. The inspector general will compile a full report on what happened, and will also issue individual findings and recommendations immediately to the homes to save lives.
“The number of Covid-related deaths at our state-run veterans homes are the highest among similar facilities nationwide. One in three residents at the Menlo Park and Paramus homes are no longer here today,” said Dancer (R-Ocean). “The state should have corrected course long before our nation’s heroes met this terrible fate.”
The state-run veterans homes in Paramus and Edison lost 190 residents and two caregivers from the coronavirus – making it one of the largest death tolls in nursing homes in the nation. Subsequent reports showed how mismanagement, lax infection control and poor decisions contributed to the devastation.
“Our veterans and their families deserve answers, the assurance that this will never happen again, and the comfort that their concerns will not fall on deaf ears moving forward,” continued Dancer.
Under the bill, the inspector general would be appointed to a five-year term by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. He or she would conduct evaluations, inspections, and other such reviews as deemed necessary to ensure the safety and quality of care provided at the facilities.
“The brave men and women who served our country should be afforded the best care this state can provide,” said Dancer. “It’s the least we can do to repay them for protecting our freedom and American values.”
Further supporting our veterans’ safety, security and health, Dancer introduced four other bills this week that offer solutions to several concerns:
- One bill (A5109) would require courts to consider an offense against a veteran an aggravating factor during sentencing. Under the law, offenses against veterans and service members would be treated the same as offenses against police, firefighters and seniors.
- Aiding veterans with PTSD and other health issues, another measure (A5110) would create the Outdoor Recovery Task Force to improve and coordinate the use of state and local parks, and other outdoor spaces, to help veterans find healing in nature.
- Under A5111, veterans home residents with no source of income would receive an increase in their personal needs allowance from $50 to $90. The amount has remained at $50 for more than two decades. Additionally, the cap on prepaid burial fund allowances for veterans in these nursing homes would be raised from $12,000, set in 2008, to $15,000. Inflation adjustments would be made every four years thereafter to each figure.
- Veterans would also receive affordable housing preference under A5112. Half of the available affordable units would be set aside for veterans for the first 90 days. After that time, the remaining unclaimed housing would be made available to other qualified applicants. A town would get 1.5 credits for an affordable unit that becomes occupied by a veteran.