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Funding is returned to Soldiers' Home, but future is uncertain

Date: 1/19/2010

Jan. 20, 2010.

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE -- The day before over 300 veterans from Western Massachusetts converged on the State House to protest the cuts to the budget of the Holyoke Soldiers' Home, Gov. Deval Patrick restored those funds.

His announcement on Jan. 12 didn't stop the protest and hasn't answered all of the questions about the future funding of and services offered at the Soldiers' Home.

Patrick made the following statement: "Because of improving state revenues and the compelling needs of our veterans, we are pleased to be able to reverse the spending cut for out-patient services at the Holyoke and Chelsea Soldiers' Homes.

"The service and sacrifice of our veterans is never to be underestimated or undervalued, and the gradual recovery of our economy makes it possible for us to fix this problem now.

"We look forward to working with the Soldiers' Homes and veterans advocates to develop sustainable funding for the future. "I want to thank Sen. [Stephen] Buoniconti, Sen. [Gale] Candaras and Rep. [Michael] Kane for their effective advocacy on behalf of the Soldiers' Homes."

Jennifer Kritz, communications director for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, confirmed to Reminder Publications that $879,219 would be returned to the operating budget of the Holyoke Soldiers' Home for the operation of the out patient clinic. That sum would allow the restoration of the services and staff until the close of the state's fiscal year.

The ultimate fate for the clinic and the mission and services of the Soldiers' Home is still unknown.

She said the staff of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services "are working hard on the fiscal year 2010 budget" and "were well aware of [the issues]."

Michael Pasterczyk, acting superintendent of the Soldiers' Home, said the out patient clinic would be restored when the funding comes into the facility's account, which he expected would be in the first week of February.

Pasterczyk said the seven staff members who were either laid off or had a reduction in hours would be brought back to their former status.

Kris Lecca, veterans' agent for the city of Holyoke, charged that Patrick's decision was politically motivated."

"I think it was political to get Martha Coakley votes," she said.

Lecca added, "There is still no long term solution in place."

Lecca said eight buses of veterans went to the State House on Jan. 13. While some vets protested the cut in front of the capitol, Lecca and others delivered petitions to the governor's office.

She thanked State Sen. Michael Knapik for his support. Knapik supplied hot beverages and food for the vets. Kane also came out to the sidewalk to greet the vets, she added.

"I don't think this battle is over by any means," Lecca said.