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Our Veterans Deserve Better

Following the recent report on abuse and neglect at Menlo Park Veterans Memorial Home, state leaders must do more to protect our veterans from such conditions. Although the report has not yet been made public, we have seen a copy of it and can attest to its heartbreaking accounts. It is a dark and disturbing portrait of a facility that has allowed veterans to suffer abuse, neglect, and mistreatment. However, it is also an indictment of the state government, which has failed to monitor the quality of care at these assisted living facilities properly.

The report documents the gross mistreatment of veterans at residents' facilities, where residents' lives were imperiled by staff who provided inadequate care and created unsanitary living conditions. Additionally, it raises serious questions about how such abuse might have been prevented. Frankly, we are horrified by the violations committed, and we vow to do whatever is within our power to ensure that such crimes never happen again.

Although Governor Murphy's proposed solution to the problem—hiring a private vendor for assistance in managing the facility and improving conditions there—may be appropriate, it does not address why such ill-treatment took place under his watch. Meanwhile, the federal government has threatened to reduce funding from the Menlo Park facility even as more and more former service members enter the hospital system or require a long-term care nursing home facility like the Veterans Memorial Home.

That is why within the next few weeks, we will introduce legislation establishing a special committee of the General Assembly to investigate state facilitated veterans' memorial homes. The “New Jersey Veterans' Memorial Homes Investigation Committee” aims to find out what happened at the state's veterans' homes and who is responsible for the concerning practices as indicated in the scathing report. Our veterans deserve better, which is why we're taking this important step. We will ensure our soldiers, sailors, marines, and more receive the care they need from these government facilities—care that has been long overdue.

Other matters, including underfunded veteran related programs, have also come to our attention regarding the treatment of New Jersey's veterans at state-run facilities. For example, many disabled veterans have had to miss medical appointments or wait hours for a ride because of cuts in the state-run program that provides transportation assistance. Worse, even if they can get to their destination, a lack of connected transportation services leaves them stranded and unable to return home. Therefore, improving access to veterans’ transportation services must be considered paramount.

However, since the state has failed to meet the needs of its veteran population, it is up to the legislature to attend to the needs of our growing veteran population. Earlier this year, we introduced Assembly Bill 4779 to establish a Disabled Veterans Transportation Task Force. The new task force, comprised of officials from the transportation and veterans’ affairs departments, will look at ways to improve transportation services for disabled veterans to make them more manageable, reliable, and accessible.

Following long-standing disapproval from various state veterans’ affairs organizations, we have also introduced a new bill requiring NJ Transit to expand its Access Link paratransit service area to include every veteran's healthcare facility in the state. Frequently criticized for offering spotty services, the program’s lack of necessary funding cannot keep up with utilization as the Department of Veterans affairs pulled more former service members into the hospital system. This bill would also appropriate $1 million to NJ Transit to support any costs associated with this requirement.

Such actions will dramatically improve the quality of life and level of care of our state veterans. That is why we are fighting to ensure those who gave so much to protect us access the transportation they require and receive the respect they deserve. This should not be a partisan issue; it is about doing what is right, and we encourage our colleagues in the Assembly and the entire legislature to join us in this fight.

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