A Military and Veterans Affairs official who oversaw the state’s three veterans homes stepped down on Tuesday after the COVID-19 death toll at the facilities reached 102.

It was not clear why Mark Piterski stepped down as deputy commissioner although he told the New Jersey Globe on Tuesday that he intends to file as an independent candidate to run against Democratic U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer in the 5th Congressional District.

Piterski had announced an independent campaign against Gottheimer on April 21 but the campaign ended after one day in order to focus on the veterans home situation, he told the New Jersey Globe.

Gov. Phil Murphy acknowledged Piterski's resignation at Tuesday’s daily briefing but did not provide details.

"I literally just read this morning that Mark had resigned. I met Mark when he was in uniform as a general, an outstanding member of our military and then as a civilian leader," Murphy said.

Department spokesman Kryn Westhoven told New Jersey 101.5 that Piterski provided his resignation late Tuesday to Brig. Gen. Jemal J, Beale, the adjutant general and commissioner of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

"Since this is personnel matter, we cannot comment any further," Westhoven said.

Attention became focused on the veterans home in Paramus, where the most number of patients had died. Families told NorthJersey.com about the facility's staff becoming overwhelmed because of a lack of staff and training and complained about poor communication about the condition of their loved ones.

The state Department of Health on Tuesday reported that 189 out of 228 residents at the Paramus facility have tested positive for COVID-19 with 57 deaths. At the Edison facility, 76 patients have tested positive and 45 have died. Three residents have tested positive at the Vineland facility.

Forty New Jersey National Guard combat medics were assigned to the homes in Paramus and Edison to "level off the staffing," according to Westhoven.

"There are now nearly 120 Army and Air National Guard members who are not not only medics but other citizen soldiers and airmen helping with administrative tasks, like answering phone calls and emails as well as assisting with video chats between families and residents," Westhoven said. There are 80 in Paramus and 40 in Menlo Park.

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Piterski also was in charge of the Brigadier General William C. Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery.

Retired New Jersey Army National Guard Col. Walter Nall, the current director of Veterans Services, will serve as the acting deputy commissioner for veterans affairs.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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