Speech Testimony of Secretary Santiago - Joint Hearing of the House & Senate Committees on Ways & Means

March 23rd, 2023 Testimony of EOVS Secretary Jon Santiago
  • Executive Office of Veterans' Services

Media Contact for Testimony of Secretary Santiago - Joint Hearing of the House & Senate Committees on Ways & Means

Linnea Walsh, Director of Communications and Intergovernmental Relations


Good morning, Chair Cronin, Chair LaNatra, and distinguished members of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means. My name is Jon Santiago, and I am honored to serve as the first Secretary of the newly established Massachusetts Executive Office of Veterans’ Services – which was made possible with your leadership in reforming a broken system and passing Chapter 144 of the Acts of 2022. As a former legislator, I have tremendous respect for your leadership and extend my deep heartfelt thanks for your continued support for veterans across the Commonwealth. 

Thank you to the Chairs and the members for the opportunity to address you today and answer your questions about Governor Healey’s FY2024 House 1 budget proposal for the Executive Office of Veterans’ Services (EOVS) and the two Veterans’ Homes. 

I am joined here today by representatives from the “State Veterans’ Homes”, Superintendent Michael Lazo from Holyoke and Robert Engell, the Executive Director of Veterans’ Homes and Housing who currently serves as Acting Superintendent for the Veterans’ Home in Chelsea, who you will hear from a little later. 

I want to first start by recognizing and thanking Cheryl Poppe for her longstanding service to our veterans as the former Secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Services. She has led the Commonwealth’s veterans services work with a steady hand through some incredibly turbulent times. We are grateful for her service.  

As you are aware, the passing of Chapter 144 created a multitude of statutory and governance changes greatly impacting the executive office’s role in providing services for veterans. Those changes include: 

  • Elevating the Department of Veterans’ Services, which was under the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, to its own Cabinet-level Secretariat. 
  • The state operated Veterans’ Homes in Chelsea and Holyoke now report to the Secretary of EOVS, including both superintendents. 
  • The Homes must apply for and maintain certain Department of Public Health licensure and CMS certification and can be inspected twice annually by DPH.  
  • The establishment of an independent Office of the Veterans Advocate who is to be jointly appointed by the Governor, Attorney General, and the State Auditor. This office is not within or subject to the control of any other agency. 

Additionally, thanks to your support and the work of our dedicated staff, I am able to share that Massachusetts continues to be recognized as a national leader in providing veterans’ services and benefits including monetary and non-monetary benefits, affordable housing opportunities, resources for women veterans, peer to peer outreach to help prevent suicide, and support in the operation of two veterans’ cemeteries in Agawam and Winchendon. 



Not including the approximately $79 million allocated to operate both Veterans’ Homes, the Governor’s House 1 budget allocates $106.5 million for FY2024 to support ongoing programming from the Executive Office of Veterans’ Services.  

Key initiatives include the following: 

  • $68.2 million to support more than 7,000 individuals receiving Chapter 115 “safety net” benefits. Chapter 115 provides economic assistance to qualified veterans and their dependents to purchase necessities like food, shelter, clothing, fuel, and medical care.   
  • $32 million for the annuity program, which provides financial support by way of two $1,000 payments annually for nearly 17,000 individuals. Veterans must be 100 percent-service-connected veterans with disabilities to be qualify. Gold Star parents or surviving spouses of veterans whose death was related to their military service are also eligible.   
  • This budget includes $9.5 million to fund veteran homelessness prevention efforts by way of contracting with direct service providers. Funding for emergency shelter providers, such as the New England Center for Homeless Veterans and Soldier On, offer approximately 150 temporary beds each day. This past year, we announced nearly $4 million in new funding as part of the Department of Veterans’ Services’ (DVS) veterans outreach appropriation for increased outreach services to veterans in ten communities. This additional funding was able to reach our most underserved veterans and has provided for food and clothing, employment services, transportation to and from medical appointments, security deposits for veteran-specific housing, low- or no-cost housing upgrades, and counseling for female veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other medical conditions. 

The budget also includes: 

  • $4.2 million to bolster information technology (IT) support for the two Veterans’ Homes and improve service delivery through a new IT office responsible for IT strategy and delivery.  
  • $2.2 million to cover the additional costs of the elevation to a secretariat. This will allow for the creation of a new human resources and labor relations offices, expand our existing legal, finance, legislative, and communications functions, that once staffed, will help increase EOVS capacity to deliver effective, responsive and timely services.  
  • Funding will also support our two Veterans’ Homes to maintain critical staffing and infrastructure improvements, including preparing for the opening of new Veterans’ Homes facilities. You will hear more on that from our Veteran Home superintendents. 
  • The Governor’s budget recommendation also includes $1.5 million to support vital peer to peer outreach services through the Statewide Advocacy for Veterans’ Empowerment Program, otherwise known as SAVE. SAVE is a peer support program focusing on suicide prevention, jail diversion, and substance use/mental health treatment. 
  • The Women Veterans’ Network outreach program budget recommendation is $629K. Women veterans comprise the fastest-growing segment of our veteran community, now representing approximately 25,000 individuals in Massachusetts. This past year, the WVN conducted its first statewide survey of women veterans in decades to better understand the services that women veterans in the Commonwealth currently use, and that could best support their unique circumstances. 



In conclusion, Governor Healey’s House 1 budget proposal is committed to meeting the moment and supporting our veteran community. My priority as the first Secretary of Veterans’ Services is to build out a robust secretariat in order to further scale up our veteran support programs and financial support. Given our shared vision and desire to see the veteran community excel, I urge you to support the Governor’s budget request for the Executive Office of Veterans’ Services. I am happy to answer any questions you may have before inviting our Superintendents to speak.

Media Contact for Testimony of Secretary Santiago - Joint Hearing of the House & Senate Committees on Ways & Means

Executive Office of Veterans' Services 

The mission of the Executive Office of Veterans’ Services (EOVS) is to act as the primary advocate on behalf of all the Commonwealth’s veterans.

EOVS provides our veterans and their families with quality support services and directs an emergency financial assistance program for those veterans and their dependents who are in need.

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