Rocky Hill veterans facility may not be serving vets well

November 26, 2014

Norwich Bulletin Editorial by Senator Guglielmo

This month, we celebrated Veterans Day. I was not a combat veteran but I did serve my country in the Army.

What struck me this year is, at our state Veterans Home and Hospital in Rocky Hill, veterans did not have a ceremony on the day everyone observes. Instead, the 400 or so residents at the facility were served a “special meal.” 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 serve on the committee charged with researching and investigating state government programs to see if they are working. I can tell you this public hearing was eye-opening.

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, the staff is — in his words — “inept.”

Fryer recounted a story of a resident who needed help. Allegedly, it took 20 minutes for trained paramedics to arrive. He told us that he watched that man die in his hands and has to live with that.

I’ve 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?

The committee staff has found that the home’s budget has been reduced by 25.6 percent over the last 10 fiscal years and effective staffing levels have fallen by 17 percent between 2008 and 2014.

It’s not all bad. There were some veterans who relayed positive stories. Jonathan Riker told us he was grateful to be there, otherwise he’d have to find a spot under a bridge. His only request was that we remember their service and treat them 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.

The committee’s final report will be ready in 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