The Soldiers Home in Holyoke, Massachusetts

The Soldiers Home in Holyoke, Massachusetts (Hoang ‘Leon’ Nguyen / The Republican/TNS)

HOLYOKE, Mass. (Tribune News Service) — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has entered into an agreement with the Veterans' Home in Holyoke to help provide funding for a new facility that will provide 234 long-term care beds for veterans.

On Tuesday, state Sen. John C. Velis, D-Westfield, said the federal agency forged a memorandum of agreement with the facility formerly known as the Holyoke Soldiers' Home, and Veterans Affairs has awarded $164 million of a promised $263.5 million to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Veterans Services for the construction of the new facility.

"This new facility, and this funding, will help ensure that the future residents of the Holyoke Veterans' Home and Veterans across the Commonwealth receive the care with honor and dignity that they have earned in service to our nation," Velis said in a statement, adding the project has commenced.

The project coincides with the rebuilding of the Veterans' Home in Chelsea.

After more than 80 veterans died in 2020 during the COVID-19 virus outbreak at the Holyoke facility, former Gov. Charlie Baker's administration filed a $400 million bond bill to replace the 70-year-old long-term care facility in 2021.

Velis, a major in the U.S. Army Reserve who also chairs the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs, said in his statement issued Tuesday that the passage of the bond bill resulted in an additional approval from the Department of Veterans Affairs State Home Construction Grant Program.

The state's share of the project will be $136.5 million.

In October, Veterans Affairs approved $160 million in funding for the 2022 fiscal year for the project after it asked the state to apply for conditional funding.

The Executive Office of Veterans' Services said in a statement Tuesday it completed the steps to receive the funding. It added the rest of the federal fund will come in future fiscal years.

"Today's announcement has been a long time in the making and is an important step towards making a new Holyoke Veterans' Home a reality," said Velis wrote in the release.

Velis' spokesperson, Gabriel Adams-Keane, said the Holyoke Soldiers' Home changed its name to the Holyoke Veterans' Home on March 1 to reflect that members of the Air Force, Navy, and other branches of the military also seek out the home's services, not just soldiers.

"These changes are the result of a law enacted last year elevating the Department of Veterans' Services to a Cabinet Secretariat," Adams-Keane wrote in an email.

Veterans' Services Secretary Jon Santiago said the reconstruction of the Holyoke Veterans' Home shows the Healey-Driscoll administration is moving beyond "past challenges."

"The Holyoke Veterans' Home reconstruction project signifies the deep gratitude and respect we owe to our veterans and demonstrates our unwavering commitment to their well-being," Santiago said in a statement.

The announcement comes on the heels of a decision issued last week by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that revives the criminal case against two top officials at the Holyoke facility, former Superintendent Bennett Walsh and Medical Director Dr. David Clinton, who are accused of criminal neglect for how they responded in the early weeks of the pandemic.

Clinton and Walsh say other officials in state government used them as scapegoats over the incident.

(c)2023 The Republican, Springfield, Mass.

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