Rep. Santiago Named As First Cabinet-Level Veterans’ Secretary

Governor Maura T. Healey and Lieutenant Governor Kimberley Driscoll announced that they are appointing State Representative Jon Santiago to serve as Massachusetts’ first ever Secretary of the Executive Office of Veterans’ Services. Representative Santiago is a major in the U.S. Army Reserve, an emergency medicine physician at Boston Medical Center, a former volunteer in the Peace Corps, and has served as State Representative for the 9th Suffolk district since 2019. 

In 2022, the Massachusetts Legislature passed An Act relative to the governance, structure and care of veterans at the Commonwealth’s veterans’ homes in response to the devastating tragedy at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in 2020. The legislation made a number of key reforms, including creating the Executive Office of Veterans’ Services to be led by the Secretary of Veterans’ Services. Among the Secretary’s responsibilities include serving as the ultimate appointing authority of the superintendents of the state’s two veterans’ homes. The secretariat will be established on March 1, 2023, which is when Rep. Santiago will be sworn in as Veterans’ Services Secretary. 

“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 Governor Healey. “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.” 

“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,” said Lieutenant Governor Driscoll. “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.” 

“I’m honored that Governor Healey and Lieutenant Governor Driscoll have placed their trust in me to assume this historic position,” said Representative Santiago. “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.” 

Jon Santiago was born in Puerto Rico and received his undergraduate degrees in biology and religious studies from the University of Texas at Austin. After college, he volunteered for the Peace Corps where he organized sugarcane workers and communities in the Dominican Republic, and later was a Fulbright Scholar in Paris. He completed a Master of Public Health from the University of Washington at Seattle after returning from abroad. A graduate of Yale School of Medicine, he now works as an emergency medicine physician at Boston Medical Center, the city’s safety net hospital. He also serves as a major in the U.S. Army Reserve and has been deployed overseas twice. 

In 2018, he was elected State Representative for the 9th Suffolk District located in Boston. During his time in the Legislature, he advocated to increase funding and services to address the substance use epidemic, affordable housing, and tackle health disparities. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Representative Santiago doubled his hours in the emergency room and served as a member of the House of Representatives COVID-19 Working Group and Vice-Chair of the COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness & Management to advise policymaking and ensure state government accountability.  

He lives in the South End with his wife Alexandra and son Rafael. 

The Veterans’ Services Secretary will work closely with the newly constituted Veterans’ Homes Council, which was also established by legislation. The Council’s responsibilities include recommending improvements and policies for veterans’ homes to the Secretary of Veterans’ Services, submitting recommendations for appointments and removal of Veterans’ Homes Superintendents, and developing an annual report reviewing the Veterans’ Homes’ demographics, finances, staffing levels, efficacy, equity, and resident well-being. Governor Healey and Acting Health and Human Services Secretary Mary Beckman announced their appointments to this council last week.  

Statements of Support: 

“Representative Santiago’s service to his country, as a healthcare professional, and in the House of Representative makes him uniquely qualified to serve in this new position. I want to thank Representative Santiago for his hard work during his time in the House, and I wish him all the best going forward.” -House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano (D-Quincy) 

“The Healey-Driscoll administration should be commended for moving quickly to elevate Veterans’ Services as a stand alone agency with direct report to the Governor. We congratulate them for selecting Jon Santiago as its new leader. Rep. Santiago is an Army veteran, dedicated legislator and an accomplished medical physician. He has demonstrated a strong commitment to our Country and Commonwealth and his leadership and compassion for helping those in need is unquestioned. The Disabled American Veterans look forward to working with him to serve and support our veterans and their families. DAV also wishes to thank current Secretary Cheryl Poppe for her many years of service and dedication during very challenging times and we know our veterans will continue to be well served by Secretary Santiago.” -Coleman Nee, former Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans’ Services (2011-2015) and National Line Officer for Disabled American Veterans. 

“Representative Santiago’s medical background will be a significant asset to the role of Veterans’ Services Secretary, as he has firsthand knowledge of what it takes to meet veterans’ complex health needs. I’m confident that he will always put the health and wellbeing of our veterans first.” -Dr. Thea James, Vice President of Mission, Associate Chief Medical Officer, Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine, and Director of the Violence Intervention Advocacy Program at Boston Medical Center 

“Representative Santiago has been a strong, effective representative for our South End district, as well as for the Latino community throughout his career, and I’m excited to see him take on this important role in the Healey-Driscoll Administration. He will bring empathy, integrity and expertise to the job, and our veterans and Commonwealth will benefit enormously from his leadership.” – Vanessa Calderón-Rosado, CEO of Inquilinos Boricuas in Acción 

“Representative Santiago has been a champion of equity throughout his career, and he will bring compassion and expertise to this new role. We can count on him to make sure veterans are receiving the care they need and deserve, especially veterans of color.” -Tony Molina, President of the Puerto Rican Veterans Association of Massachusetts.

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