Salem woman tapped to head veterans affairs

Cheryl Lussier Poppe 

SALEM — A Salem woman who was tapped by Gov. Charlie Baker in June to temporarily take over the Department of Veterans Services amid reports that a COVID-19 outbreak at the Holyoke Soldier's Home was badly mishandled is now being appointed to the position permanently, the governor's office announced Thursday. 

Cheryl Lussier Poppe, who in 2014 became the first woman superintendent of the Chelsea Soldier's Home, served for 30 years in the Massachusetts National Guard, retiring at the rank of colonel.

She replaces Francisco Urena, of Lawrence, who stepped down in the wake of a scathing report into how the Holyoke outbreak was handled. Two former officials of the Holyoke home, Superintendent Bennett Walsh and former Medical Director David Clinton, have been indicted on criminal neglect charges and are set to be arraigned next month in Hampden Superior Court.

Poppe joined the Department of Veterans Services in 2008 following her retirement from the National Guard. 

“For four decades Cheryl Lussier Poppe has served the Commonwealth with distinction, first with the Massachusetts National Guard and then within the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and at our two Soldiers’ Homes,” said Baker in a press release announcing the appointment. “Time and time again, Cheryl has risen to the challenge to serve, and she has become indispensable to our Soldiers’ Homes, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a leader of exceptional talent and unquestionable character and I am confident she will serve our veterans at the highest level, ensuring they receive the support and care they are entitled to."

“Cheryl brings the combination of military service, hands-on management and public sector leadership, and is the right person for the Secretary role,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders in the same release.

Poppe called it an honor and privilege to work with and support veterans in her roles with the agency, in the same release. “In assuming the role of Secretary, I reaffirm my commitment to our veterans as we navigate this unprecedented pandemic, ensure the safety of the veterans in our care, and strengthen our relationships and partnerships within the community.”

During her military career, Poppe was deputy chief of staff for personnel, overseeing aspects of one of the largest deployments of the Guard in history.

She also became involved with the National Yellow Ribbon Working Group, creating a model for programs to assist returning service members with re-integrating to civilian life.

Poppe is a 1978 graduate of the University of Rhode Island, holds an MBA from Salem State University, and attended the United States Army Command and General Staff College. 

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis. 

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