One on one with First Cabinet Level Veterans’ Secretary Jon Santiago

BOSTON — Dr. Jon Santiago was a reassuring and familiar face on Boston 25 News during the pandemic, but now the Boston Medical Center Emergency medicine physician is using his skill set to help local veterans.

On March 1, Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey appointed the U.S. Army Reserve Major as the First Cabinet Level Veterans’ Secretary. He recently sat down with Boston 25 News anchor Mark Ockerbloom to talk about the new role.

“To me, my first priority is to build this foundation, we can’t do all the fun, amazing important things we need to to do to serve our veterans if the foundation isn’t there,” Santiago said, “and so we’re right now working very hard to build up this organization, staff it considerably, whether that’s HR, communications, you name it and to build these programs up and so that we can rebuild that relationship we have with the veterans.”

Secretary Santiago talked about the need to build trust as well in the wake of the COVID-19 deaths of more than 100 veterans at the soldiers’ homes in both Holyoke and Chelsea.

“That was a tragedy words can’t describe, there is still a significant amount of grief there with the families of the veterans. The staff there, although you can’t change the past, you can shape the future,” Santiago said. “And that’s why Governor Healey in this budget that came out decided to invest significantly in setting up this office and giving it the financial and human resources it needs to succeed.”

Secretary Santiago says he will embrace the work ahead.

“I’m a big believer in what’s called the social determinants of health. How things like housing, employment, the environment impact our health and so my goal in setting up this office as we build that foundation is to make sure those things are in place so they can best support our veteran community which in turn will improve their health,” Santiago said.

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