VA probes alleged abuse of disabled vets at residential home

(Evan Lips)   John, a Vietnam War veteran, says the memory of Tuesday, Aug. 9 will stick in his memory until the end of his days.

That was the day when Veterans Affairs officials closed down the East Merrimack Street community residential home where he and three other disabled veterans were living. VA officials transferred the veterans to other residential homes.

John, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was moved to an Appleton Street residential home, but hasn’t seen or heard about the other disabled vets. He alleges that he and the other veterans were being abused by the residential home’s sponsor, Doris “Dody” Machado.

A VA official declined to tell The Sun why the the disabled veterans were moved from the East Merrimack Street home, but did acknowledge that an investigation is under way.

Kristin Pressly, a spokeswoman for the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, said she could not confirm or deny any incidents that may have taken place at the veterans home at 514 East Merrimack St.

“Commenting on anything right now might jeopardize the case,” she said, adding that the matter is under investigation.

John alleges that Machado abused him and his housemates. John said that Machado once emptied a glass of water on top of his head to “teach him a lesson.”

Stackpole Street resident Tom Green, who said he’s a friend of John’s, said Friday that when he first met Machado he “thought she was a saint.”

But he then talked about the time Machado asked him if he could loan her $400.

“She gave me a sob story and I got suckered,” he said. “I’ll never see that money again.”

Machado was reached last Friday on her cellphone. As soon as she was asked about the East Merrimack Street home, Machado hung up her phone.

The East Merrimack Street home was part of the VA’s community residential-care program, which provides veterans who do not require hospital care — but are unable to live independently — the ability to live in a communal atmosphere. The veterans are responsible for room-and-board costs, but a provider must also live at the house.

All CRC houses are inspected annually by VA inspection teams, according to a March 2007 copy of the VA’s Community Residential Care Program handbook. Pressly said she could not comment on Machado’s CRC application or her history sponsoring the East Merrimack Street home.

On Tuesday, Pressly agreed to proceed with a Sun reporter’s request to interview another CRC sponsor at a different home. But on Wednesday, Pressly said she had to deny the request out “of respect for the pending investigation.”

“As soon as it’s over and the matter is cleared and it won’t compromise our case I would be happy to do so,” she said about the request.

According to the VA’s CRC sponsorship application, applicants are required to list four references, including two neighbors, agree to an initial home inspection “by a healthcare team from a VA facility,” and “comply with VA standards for residential care.”

The VA’s CRC handbook states that all formal applications must be reviewed by the CRC program coordinator, who then must contact the applicant to arrange for a site visit.

Jennifer Demaio, the Bedford VA Medical Center’s program coordinator, said last week she could not comment on the situation at 514 East Merrimack St. and referred all questions to Pressly.

John, the veteran who was moved from the East Merrimack Street home, said Demaio made a surprise inspection visit to the home on the night of Monday, Aug. 8. The next morning he and the three other veterans were dispersed to other homes. John said they were given 10 minutes to pack their belongings.

Dracut Veterans Agent Bill Zounes said veterans who participate in a CRC program must agree to have a portion of their disability pension or Social Security pay for their room and board.

John said he’s not sure where Machado resides, but that she is active with the Lowell Elks Lodge. Elks Exalted Ruler Paul Savary confirmed last week that Machado serves as the organization’s chaplain. Her responsibilities include leading group prayer and organizing donation efforts for local veterans.

“The only thing I know is that I was told a few weeks ago if I ever needed to reach Dody (Machado) I had to call her cellphone and not the house phone number,” Savary said.

According to Lowell’s online assessor’s database, the East Merrimack Street house is owned by Charles Emanouil, a Chelmsford landscaper and developer. Reached at home on Thursday, Emanouil said he and his family recently decided not to renew their lease with the VA.

“We weren’t getting enough vets living there and it’s such a small house that we were losing money every year,” he said. “It is a rooming house with a license.”

Emanouil said he is unaware of any investigation related to Machado.

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