WASHINGTON, D.C. — Lawrence native Francisco Urena is in the nation's capitol working to improve services for veterans not only here in Massachusetts, but across the entire nation.
Urena, 37, a decorated U.S. Marine, was appointed as the Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans Affairs by Gov. Charlie Baker. More recently, Urena, the previous veterans director for both Lawrence and Boston, was selected to serve on the newly formed Veterans Family, Caregiver and Survivor Federal Advisory Committee.
The committee is part of Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin's commitment to supporting those who served our nation and those who care for them, according to a recent VA statement.
A mix of veterans and military caregivers are serving on the committee, advocating for improvements to VA care and benefits.
The committee is chaired by former U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole, a noted advocate for military caregivers. She is the founder of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and the Hidden Heroes Campaign, both of which regularly collaborate with the VA on issues related to military caregiving.
Urena shared with The Eagle-Tribune photos of himself with former Sen. Dole and her husband, Robert, at a dinner in Washington on Sunday evening. Robert Dole is a former U.S. Senate Majority Leader and a World War II veteran.
“Military families, caregivers and survivors are truly our nation’s hidden heroes, and make great sacrifices each and every day on behalf of their loved ones, so we must do more to support them on their journey," Elizabeth Dole, herself a caregiver to her husband who was injured in combat, said in a prepared statement. "The VA, under Secretary Shulkin’s leadership, is stepping up at a time of tremendous need and opportunity,”
Urena expected to spend two days this week in D.C. working with the committee. Their daily schedule is rigorous, he said. And the position is important to him because he can highlight many programs and services underway for veterans and caregivers now in Massachusetts, he said.
"This community of military veteran families, veterans and survivors to which this committee represents undergo many sacrifices. We do great things in Massachusetts to recognize them and our programs reflects the sacrifices of these families. This is about sharing best practices and working together to close gaps that may exist," he said.
"Not every state has the vast network and safety net we share, especially the aspect of a service officer in every city and town unique to Massachusetts," he added.
Urena, now a Boston resident, spent eight years in the Marines guarding U.S. embassies in Syria and Kyrgyzstan. He also was a tank commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
During a clash with insurgents in the Anbar Province, Urena was struck in the face with flying glass and debris. He still has a piece of scrap metal in his cheek. In 2005, he was awarded the Purple Heart, a decoration for military personnel who are wounded in action.
Urena and his wife, Jen Siegler, have two young children.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.