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More than 80 residents have died at the Veterans Home in Paramus. NorthJersey.com

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U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, on Monday called upon the secretary of Veterans Affairs to answer questions about oversight of state-run veterans' homes, citing coverage by The Record and NorthJersey.com of pandemic deaths at New Jersey's homes, among other articles.

“Unfortunately, it appears that the standard of care and quality controls at many state veterans homes falls well short of those required by other government supported nursing homes," Grassley wrote. "Americans deserve answers and our veterans deserve better."

Grassley asked Denis R. McDonough, the VA secretary, if additional authority is needed from Congress to improve the oversight of state-run veterans' homes, which receive the bulk of their funding from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. Issues at the homes came to a head during the COVID pandemic, he said. 

Grassley is the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee and has a long history of seeking better oversight of nursing homes. 

A recent report by Politico found that the death rate at state-run veterans' homes nationally was twice that of facilities operated by the federal agency. It noted that the VA does not require state governments to appoint nursing home administrators with health care experience. 

New Jersey legislators recently passed two bills that would require key administrators at the homes and the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to have a background in health care — something that has been lacking at the agency and that family members have been clamoring for. The bills await Gov. Phil Murphy's signature.

Related: New bills for NJ veterans homes head to Murphy. Can they help prevent another outbreak?

There have been 156 confirmed resident deaths from COVID at the three homes in Paramus, Menlo Park and Vineland, plus at least 47 probable deaths that the Department of Health attributed to COVID-19. In addition, there were two confirmed staff deaths — one each at Paramus and Menlo Park. 

Two investigations are underway, by the state Attorney General's Office and the U.S. Justice Department.

Currently, one employee in Paramus is positive for COVID and the Valor unit of the home is in quarantine, with no visits allowed other than those for compassionate care. Over the last month, four additional staff members tested positive. Two staff members at the veterans' home in Vineland have also tested positive.

Lindy Washburn is a senior health care reporter for NorthJersey.com. To keep up-to-date about how changes in health care affect you and your family, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: washburn@northjersey.com 

Twitter: @lindywa 

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