After 190 deaths at veterans homes, Murphy fires multiple leaders
In the biggest administrative shakeup since the pandemic, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Friday that he had replaced leadership at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and at two veterans nursing homes were at least 190 residents may have died from COVID-19.
Murphy’s announcement did not mention the devastating loss of life, the ongoing investigation by his attorney general into the veterans homes, or explain why he fired the leaders, who other elected officials and advocates had been calling to be replaced.
In charge of the department will be an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran and Army surgeon, Col. Dr. Lisa J. Hou, who will serve as interim adjutant general and commissioner. Hou, the current deputy adjutant general, replaces Major Gen. Jemal J. Beale.
Brigadier Gen. Patrick M. Kennedy will serve as Hou’s deputy.
Acting Deputy Commissioner for Veterans Affairs Walter R. Nall will take on additional duties as director of the Division of Veterans Healthcare Services, replacing Sean Van Lew.
Murphy also is replacing the CEOs of the Paramus and Menlo Park Memorial Veterans homes — Matthew Schottlander and Elizabeth Schiff-Heedles, respectively.
“Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, despite significant challenges, DMAVA has worked to save lives and support our veterans,” Murphy said in a written statement. “Having served as a field surgeon in Iraq and Afghanistan during the height of the conflicts and as a respected medical professional, Dr. Hou will provide invaluable leadership during the ongoing pandemic. We wish General Beale the best in his future endeavors.”
This summer, two North Jersey congressman called for the ouster of Schottlander at the Paramus home, where 81 residents and a staffer died from COVID-19. Many more developed illnesses.
"Mismanagement and a lack of transparency at the state-run Paramus Veterans Home resulted in needless death and preventable tragedy,” U.S. Reps. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J. 9th District, and Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J. 5th District, said in a joint statement in August. The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs under Beale stood by the homes’ leadership.
The death toll at the veterans homes stood out even in New Jersey, where half of the nearly 15,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19 have been at long-term care facilities.