By Dan Murphy
Gov. Maura Healey announced Rep. Dr. Jon Santiago as the state’s first-ever Secretary of the Executive Office of Veterans’ Services on Friday, Feb. 17, which will trigger a special election to fill his current seat.
Rep. Santiago, age 40, of the South End, was elected state representative for the city’s 9th Suffolk District in 2018. During his time in the Legislature, he also worked as an emergency medicine physician at Boston Medical Center, doubling his hours there in the wake of the pandemic. He also served as a member of the House of Representatives COVID-19 Working Group and Vice-Chair of the COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness & Management during this time. Rep. Santiago, who launched an unsuccessful bid for Mayor of Boston in 2021, is also a major in the U.S. Army Reserves.
“Representative Santiago has dedicated his life to serving his country – whether that’s volunteering for the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic, working in the emergency room throughout COVID, being deployed overseas with the U.S. Army Reserve, or advocating for increased access to housing, public transportation and substance use disorder treatment in the State House,” said Gov. Healey in a press release. “His public health expertise and military service make him uniquely qualified to serve as Massachusetts’ first ever Secretary of Veterans’ Services. I’m confident that he will be the leader our veterans need and deserve and will always stand up for their health, safety and wellbeing.”
Added Lt. Gov. Kimberly Driscoll. “As the daughter of a Navy veteran, I’m so proud that Massachusetts is taking this critical step to ensure that our veterans are well cared for and prioritized by creating the Executive Office of Veterans’ Services. I’m grateful to the veterans, legislators and advocates who worked so hard to see this through – and I’m grateful to Representative Santiago for stepping up to take on this enormous responsibility. I know our veterans will be in good hands under his leadership.”
Rep. Santiago said in a press release: “I’m honored that Governor Healey and Lieutenant Governor Driscoll have placed their trust in me to assume this historic position. Our veterans deserve the absolute highest quality of care, but they are far too often underserved. The Healey-Driscoll Administration is committed to meeting the complex needs of those who have bravely served our country, and I look forward to the opportunity to continue my own service as Secretary of Veterans’ Services.”
One of Santiago’s State House colleague, Rep. Jay Livingstone, wished him luck in his new role and commended Gov. Healey on selecting Santiago for the job.
“Governor Healey made a great pick,” said Rep. Livingstone. “I’m disappointed that I won’t be working anymore with Jon Santiago in the House of Representatives, where he has been a great colleague, I look forward to working with him in his new role.”
Rep. Santiago will be sworn in in his new role on March 1, and his duties will include ultimately appointing the heads of the state’s two veterans homes, as well as “developing an annual report reviewing the Veterans’ Homes’ demographics, finances, staffing levels, efficacy, equity, and resident well-being,” according to a press release.
Last year, the Massachusetts Legislature made a number of key reforms, including the creation of the state’s first cabinet-level Veterans Secretary, in response to the devasting COVID outbreak at the Chelsea Soldiers’ Home in 2020 that reportedly killed at least 76 veterans.
Information on a Special Election to fill Rep. Santiago’s 9th Suffolk District are expected to be announced soon.