Watch CBS News

I-Team: Veterans' Services Secretary Under Fire For Coronavirus Crisis Response

BOSTON (CBS) - All Michelle Rousseau has now are memories of the grandfather who helped to raise her. At 96, Francis Rousseau Sr., who everyone called Mike, was living at the state run Soldiers Home in Holyoke. He died last month after contracting Covid-19.

Michelle said she does not believe her family has have received an apology from anyone at veterans services. Telling the I-Team it does not appear that the administration thinks it did anything wrong.

Families aren't the only ones who say they are frustrated by the lack of compassion and leadership by the Veterans' Services Secretary Francisco Ureña.

Deb Olson is the president of the Massachusetts chapter of the Disabled American Veterans. She tells WBZ the buck stops with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs who is responsible for overseeing the Holyoke and Chelsea Soldiers Homes.

In March, the Massachusetts DAV sent a letter to Governor Charlie Baker demanding change, claiming the Department of Veterans Affairs was nowhere to be found during the soldiers home crisis and "veterans were left to die." Days later, the governor placed Bennett Walsh, the administrator in Holyoke, on administrative leave. But Ureña remains on the job.

Francisco Urena
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Francisco Urena (WBZ-TV)

Olson told the I-Team, "There are over 100 deaths between both soldiers homes that's something he's gonna have to live with."

Ureña has not been at any of the governor's news conferences and veterans' organizations say he has not visited the Chelsea or Holyoke homes. The I-Team attempted to reach the secretary at his office, on social media and even sent him a text on his cell phone- where we received a reply that we have been blocked.

Without answers from the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, families who lost loved ones say they are struggling to make peace with the tragedy.

Michelle Rousseau told WBZ she takes comfort in knowing her grandfather is with her grandmother where he wanted to be and says he will be her angel for the rest of her life.

Secretary Ureña refused our request for an interview. And in a statement said:

"The Department of Veterans' Services is committed to supporting the Veterans of our Commonwealth. The impact of COVID-19 on our community is heartbreaking, and my deepest condolences go out to all the families who have lost a loved one during this public health crisis. DVS continues to monitor Holyoke and provide support through weekly meetings and the Massachusetts National Guard continues to support staffing needs and testing. Over the past five years, Holyoke has received a funding increase from the Administration and the Soldiers' Home is surveyed by the federal government every three years to monitor several standards." - Veterans' Services Secretary Francisco Ureña

There are now three investigations into the Soldiers Home in Holyoke. Two are potentially criminal.

The day after this report aired on WBZ-TV, a spokesperson for Ureña said the number we were blocked from was not his, despite records indicating it is. And when asked, failed to provide another number to contact him. We were also told the secretary was unavailable for an interview.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.