By Steve Dnistrian, Marilyn Piperno and Kim Eulner
A new US Department of Justice investigation reports that NJ officials violated veterans’ constitutional rights, contributing to at least 200 deaths and ongoing risks;
Sen. Vin Gopal, then Chairman of the Senate Committee on Military and Veterans’ Affairs, refused to investigate deaths or support improvements at Covid-ravaged facilities;
“If people went to jail for ‘Bridgegate,’ who is accountable for the deaths of more than 200 New Jersey veterans?”
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has just issued a new, damning report that said New Jersey’s state-run nursing homes for veterans violated residents’ constitutional rights by failing to provide adequate safety in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The DOJ’s investigation also reported that the state still has failed to bring both facilities into compliance with current standards of care.
The Murphy administration wants this news to fade away. But that can’t happen until these questions are answered: Who is accountable for the deaths of more than 200 veterans? And who is accountable for failing to fix all that was wrong in these facilities?
It’s painfully clear that leadership failures occurred across the board -- within the Murphy administration, in the state legislature and in the facilities themselves. People at all three levels need to be held accountable.
In April 2010, it was the Murphy administration that directed the veterans’ homes not to turn away Covid-positive patients – a move that was in direct violation of CDC guidance, as first reported by Paul Mulshine of The Star Ledger. Instead, Covid-positive patients were sent directly into veterans’ homes in Paramus and Menlo Park, where the virus would spread like wildfire and claim at least 200 veterans’ lives. Deaths were likely undercounted due to poor clinical procedures, per the report. When Murphy was concerned about Covid-19 spreading in jails, he released criminals onto the streets. Yet, he sent the deadly virus directly into veterans’ nursing homes where it would kill the innocent.
Compounding the problem with the veterans’ homes, Senator Vin Gopal, then chairman of the Senate Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee, refused to investigate the state’s failings. When Senator Nia Gil (D-Essex) demanded lawmakers vote in favor of investigating the deaths with subpoena power, Gopal and his colleagues shut her down. Then a bipartisan group of Senators proposed legislation to upgrade the homes to prevent further deaths and tragedy. Again, Gopal refused, obviously in deference to the Murphy administration.
Finally, the report outlines numerous operational and safety failures at both veterans’ homes. Later, when the DOJ came back to check to see if the facilities had made any changes, DOJ investigators reported that staff members were instructed not to cooperate with their questioning.
If not for this forced DOJ investigation, none of these findings would have been made public. And now, no one in Trenton is accepting responsibility.
Murphy described the DOJ report as “deeply disturbing.” But he accepted no responsibility.
Gopal issued a statement blaming the Murphy administration, saying that during the time in question, the legislature was ignored. That cowardly comment comes from the elected official who was vested with the responsibility to protect our veterans. Instead, Gopal protected Murphy. And like Murphy, Gopal accepts no responsibility.
The veterans who died in these nursing homes served our country in wars, conflicts and duty around the world. And yet, they were killed right here at home – not in battle with a foreign enemy, but something much worse. They died or were placed in harm’s way because of politicians unable to lead, and cowards unwilling to accept responsibility. Is there any greater disrespect that this state can demonstrate to the families of those who died?
The state has paid a multi-million dollar in this matter settlement and has acknowledged negligence. But that’s just not sufficient in this case. People in leadership roles need to be held accountable.
Several years ago, Christie administration officials went to jail for their roles in the “Bridgegate” debacle. A disgraceful situation for sure, but no one died in that case.
In this case, more than 200 veterans perished. So, who is accountable for the actions that contributed to the deaths of these veterans? And who is accountable for failing to keep veterans safe, in line with their constitutional rights, at these facilities?
The families of these veterans – and the entire veterans’ community – deserve more than a fresh batch of hollow promises from cowards in Trenton who are unwilling to accept responsibility. These families deserve justice. As veterans know, real leaders own their mistakes. But here, you see, we’re not dealing with actual leaders; we’re dealing with politicians who want to deflect attention and move on. We cannot allow that to happen. We must ensure that those responsible on all three levels are held accountable. That’s what the people expect from their public officials. And that’s what all veterans deserve.
Steve Dnistrian is a first-time candidate running for the NJ State Senate in the 11th Legislative District in Monmouth County, where Marilyn Piperno and Kim Eulner are the current assemblywomen seeking re-election. www.SteveforNJ.com , or www.SteveMarilynKimforNJ11.com