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$56m Senate Approves the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home Settlement; the House Approves the Bills for Military Families and Burn Pits

A $56 million settlement with the relatives of those who perished in the 2020 COVID-19 epidemic at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home was approved by the state Senate on Thursday by a unanimous vote.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives also approved a measure to make it easier for military spouses to enrol their children in local schools and for them to obtain professional licenses.

By providing these facilities, Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield might be able to receive the Air Force’s newest F-35 fighter fighters.

State Senator John C. Velis, a Democrat from Westfield, said the settlement bill had previously been approved by the House and was now headed to Governor Charlie Baker.

Baker made the settlement public in May. It comes after nearly two years have passed since plaintiffs filed a $176 million class-action lawsuit in federal court against state officials and the ousted administrators of the soldiers’ home.

The only senator to address the bill on Thursday was Velis, whose seat includes Holyoke.

“No amount of money will ever be able to compensate for the terrible loss and anguish that these families have experienced.

The Commonwealth, especially our towns in Western Massachusetts, will never recover from what happened at the Home, according to Velis, chairman of the Veterans’ Committee.

“No amount of money will ever be able to give these families their lost loved ones back.

Although the sadness and grief will always be there, this agreement does make sure that the families won’t have to go through the arduous and protracted process of further litigation.


The epidemic left 84 veterans dead and infected several others. The incident sparked construction plans for a new $400 million building and still-pending legislative governance reforms.

Families of military personnel deployed to Barnes or anyplace else in Massachusetts will benefit from the licensing legislation, known as the SPEED Act.

The sacrifice of military service “goes much beyond the individual service person,” said Velis, an Army Reserve.

“Anyone who has worn the uniform or has a family member who has worn the uniform recognizes that.”

The SPEED Act acknowledges these families’ struggles and their sacrifices. The bill would assist bring a ton of federal investments to our Commonwealth and will benefit a huge number of military families moving to our state.

When choosing where to send funds and personnel, the Pentagon looks for guarantees similar to those in the SPEED act.

The military seeks to reduce the number of persons leaving the service due to delays in enrolling in school or in a spouse obtaining a license to teach or practice other professions.

R-Westfield state representative Kelly Pease addressed on the House Floor on Thursday.

Having served in the Army for 20 years, Pease said, “I know that this bill helps not only the veterans but their families and the sacrifices a family makes; it’s not an easy chore when they’re sitting at home while their soldier — male or female — is away for six months or a year and they’ve got to take care of everything at the house.”

Westfield is in a competition for the new aircraft with Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans and Fresno Yosemite Airport in California. Near the year’s end, a decision is anticipated.

U.S. Representative Richard Neal led a group in a June meeting with the secretary of the Air Force to highlight the friendly nature of Westfield.

U.S. Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Salem, Jake Auchincloss, and Stephen Lynch, D-Boston were also a part of the group, along with Baker, U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, and U.S. Reps.

Due to differences in the House version, the SPEED Act will probably require more work in the Senate. A major adjustment is a House plan to permit veteran’s groups to host gambling machines.

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The House bill also contains a Velis amendment that would provide assistance to the over 3.5 million Veterans who are believed to have been exposed to hazardous burn pits.

It would assist Massachusetts veterans in registering with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs burn pit database, making them qualified for more health care services and paying them compensation if they suffer from illnesses linked to hazardous exposure.

It is time to address the serious and long-lasting health effects these chemicals have, Velis said. “Burn pits are to my generation of Veterans what Agent Orange was to Vietnam Veterans,” he added.

Since my own experience in Afghanistan, I have been a vocal supporter of this legislation, and I am pleased that the House has taken these crucial actions today on behalf of our service members and their families.

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