Our State Should Be Ashamed

November 18, 2014

This month we celebrated Veterans Day. I was not a combat veteran but I did serve my country in the Army. Though “The Great War” – World War I ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles, France, fighting had ceased seven months earlier.

The Allied nations and Germany signed an armistice to stop fighting on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For that reason, November 11, 1918, is widely regarded as the end of “the war to end all wars.”

I take this day very seriously and do what I can to honor my fellow soldier. I attended two ceremonies, one at Ellington High School and one later in the day at Evergreen Health Center, a local nursing home. These events were both moving and very meaningful.

What truly struck me however is at our state Veterans Home and Hospital in Rocky Hill, Veterans did not have a ceremony honoring their sacrifice on the day everyone observes? Instead, the 400 or so residents at the facility were served a “special meal” and a ceremony was held a week before to accommodate staff who had Veterans Day off.

I found this out during a public hearing of the Program Review and Investigations Committee. I am a member of the committee which job it is to research and investigate state government programs to see if they are working. I can tell you this public hearing was eye opening.

Committee members heard testimony from former staff and current workers at the Veterans Home and Hospital. But what was most unsettling was the testimony given by Veterans.

Lenny Fryer, a U.S. Army veteran who served 40 years ago, has lived at the home for six months. He questioned whether the staff can handle major medical events. He said they can hand out aspirin and take a patient’s blood pressure, but when it comes to life saving measures staff are in his words, “inept.” Fryer recounted a story of a resident who needed help and it allegedly took some 20 minutes for trained paramedics to arrive.

Fryer said, “I watched that man die in my hands like that. I have to live with that.”

I have also been told by many veterans that there is a common practice in which state workers determine whether a veteran has the ability to control their own money. I question whether these staffers are qualified to do so. Are they trained in the area of psychiatry? Should they be conducting competency hearings?

Staff members for the Program Review and Investigations Committee are investigating these allegations. Thus far they have determined the home’s nursing care facility is nearly full, but multiple residential buildings on the campus have substantial vacancies. This finding can be a helpful solution to homeless veterans seeking shelter.

In addition, the committee staff has found the home’s budget has been reduced by 25.6% over the last 10 fiscal years. In addition, the home’s effective staffing level has fallen by 17% between 2008 and 2014. Despite the horrifying stories heard during the public hearing there were some veterans in the crowd who relayed better stories.

“I’m very grateful that I’m here. Otherwise, I’d have to find a spot under a bridge,” said veteran Jonathan Riker. “We only ask that you remember our service and treat us with compassion, dignity and respect.”

The appearance that some staff is not treating these veterans with compassion, dignity and respect is what truly disturbed many in the room. Quite frankly our state should be ashamed. These men and women fought for our country and should be treated with the utmost respect.

The final report, which will also look into successful programs operated around the country, will be ready by the end of December. I look forward to the findings and beginning a process of healing and rebuilding a proper program worthy of these courageous citizens.

If you are a Veteran, or know a Veteran who is in need of help please share the following phone numbers.

  • Department of Veterans’ Affairs: 866-928-8387
  • Military Support Program: 866-251-2913
  • 2-1-1: 211 (Ask for Military/Veteran Listings)