Governor signs into law eight bills designed to ensure the safety and well-being of New Jersey veterans

Governor Phil Murphy today signed into law an eight-bill package designed to ensure the safety and well-being of New Jersey veterans and those who care for them in the midst of a public health crisis.

During the pandemic’s onset, COVID-19 claimed the lives of 192 residents and two staff members at the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park in Edison and the Paramus Veterans Memorial Home in Paramus.

Few nursing homes nationwide were as devastated by the coronavirus as those in Paramus and Menlo Park during the pandemic’s height in the spring of 2020, according to a USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey report.

Thoughts and prayers remain with the families and friends of all who died during the pandemic and those still battling the insidious virus.

The legislation Murphy signed, including two bills Senator Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex) sponsored, will better prepare the state and empower families of veterans during a public health crisis.

“We must never again see the horrific surge of death and illness which occurred at our veterans’ homes during the early days of the pandemic,” Diegnan said. “Our veterans risked their lives to defend our country. They deserve the very best of care and the very best leadership to make sure that mandate is carried out.”

In an op-ed piece published last month, Senators Vin Gopal, who chairs the State Senate Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, and Joseph Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic), who serves on the committee, attributed the devastation at the Menlo Park and Paramus veterans’ homes as the virus rapidly spread to “lax infection controls and other institutional missteps.”

Gopal and Lagana assumed paramount lead roles and sponsored bills in the package, as did Senators Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex) and Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-Camden/Gloucester).

The legislation includes practical reforms and effective countermeasures in the face of a public health crisis, ranging from requiring veterans’ home administrators to have prior work experience in a clinical setting, to establishing greater communications with families and guardians, to requiring of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) a higher level of transparency.

The package includes S-3904 and S-3906, sponsored by Gopal and Lagana, which are designed to increase communication between the homes and the veterans’ guardians during a time of medical emergency and which will require the memorial homes to hold quarterly in-person or virtual town hall meetings with guardians.

Two other bills Gopal and Lagana sponsored, S-3905 and S-3907, allow a veteran’s guardian to remove the veteran from the veterans’ memorial home under certain emergency circumstances and mandate the position of resident advocate be established at each veterans’ memorial home.

Another Lagana-sponsored bill, S-3918, requires the Adjutant General of the DMVA to file weekly reports with the state health commissioner regarding the status of veterans’ homes during a public health emergency, with the goal of improving coordination and planning between the DMVA and homes.

Under bill S-3908, which Cruz-Perez sponsored, state veterans facilities will be required to provide payroll-based journal information to the New Jersey Long-Term Care Ombudsman. The law will enable a better assessment of staffing levels at long-term care facilities, ensuring quality care is provided to veterans around-the-clock.

Bills S-3903 and S-3909, which Diegnan and Vitale sponsored, create practical safeguards to ensure those with proper experience are operating and managing veterans memorial homes.

S-3903 requires the administrator and the assistant administrator at State veterans’ memorial homes to have prior work experience in a clinical setting.

S-3909 requires the Director of Division of Veterans Healthcare Services in the DMVA to have prior clinical and long-term care experience.

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