State agrees to pay $56 million to settle with veterans who got COVID at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home

HOLYOKE, Mass. — Governor Charlie Baker has agreed to settle a lawsuit against Massachusetts over its treatment and care of veterans at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home during the pandemic.

84 veterans died during the outbreak at the soldiers’ home, which began in March 2020. Dozens of more veterans were sickened.

The lawsuit on the veterans’ behalf was filed in July - arguing the Commonwealth “failed in its promise and obligation to care for those veterans.”

“The suit contends that what happened at the Soldiers’ Home was so severe that it rose to the level of a deprivation of the veterans’ constitutional rights to be free from harms recklessly created by the government,” said attorney Thomas Lesser.

“The COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home was a terrible tragedy. said Governor Charlie Baker in a statement. “While we know nothing can bring back those who were lost, we hope that this settlement brings a sense of closure to the loved ones of the veterans.”

“I mean, no amount of money It’s going to bring my dad back or any of the veterans,” said Susan Kennedy in an interview with Boston 25′s Kerry Kavanaugh.

Kennedy’s father, Charles Lowell, an Air Force veteran, died after contracting COVID at the Holyoke facility in the spring of 2020.

“I want the people who had the power to prevent or oversee this be held accountable” said Kennedy.

Potential criminal charges in the case were dismissed in November 2021. Attorney General Maura Healey has filed an appeal of that ruling. No hearing on that appeal has been set as of Thursday.

Donald Stern, a Claims Administrator, will be appointed to allocate the funds. Stern is a former U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. The agreement is subject to approval by the federal district court for Massachusetts.

Governor Baker plans to file legislation seeking $56 million for the claims fund in the coming weeks, according to a statement from his office.

“The settlement agreement establishes minimum payments that participating class members will receive and provides the Claims Administrator the discretion to award more than those amounts,” according to a statement from the law firm of Lesser Newman Aleo & Nasser, LLP.

“Veterans who contracted COVID-19 but survived past June 23, 2020, will be paid no less than $10,000, with an average award of $20,000,” according fo the statement. “The estates of veterans who contracted COVID-19 and died prior to June 23, 2020, will be paid no less than $400,000, with an average award of $510,000.”

“No amount of money can bring back the veterans who died or erase the pain and suffering that this tragedy needlessly caused those veterans and their families, but justice required that those wrongs not go unaddressed. This settlement recognizes that the tragedy was preventable and never should have happened,” Lesser said.

“The settlement is extremely fair given the difficulty of the legal obstacles that lay ahead, as well as the difficulty of collecting any award given the limitations in the Massachusetts indemnification Statute,” attorney Michael Aleo said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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