Vets air complaints, praise for veterans home

By SUSAN HAIGH
Associated Press

ROCKY HILL, Conn. (AP) _ Many veterans who live at the Connecticut Veterans’ Home in Rocky Hill see it as a life-saver, but still believe the buildings, staff and administration need improvement, several veterans told lawmakers Wednesday.

About 80 people, including veterans who rely on the home’s nursing facility and residential housing, turned out for a field hearing organized by the General Assembly’s Program Review and Investigations Committee. The panel is currently evaluating the home’s operations and effectiveness after lawmakers received complaints from residents.

Some veterans testified they feel disrespected by staff, saying Connecticut Veterans Home held no formal ceremonies on Tuesday, Veterans Day. While some said discipline is not handled fairly, others spoke of the indignity of being put on restriction, like children. Some questioned why the state waited decades to install air conditioning in a main residential building, where veterans live in a group, dormitory setting.

Lenny Fryer, a U.S. Army veteran who served during the 1970s, has lived at the home for six months. He questioned whether the staff can handle major medical events, relaying a story about how a fellow veteran recently died while waiting for staff to come help. Fryer said the staff can hand out pills and take people’s blood pressure.

“But to save a life? No. Totally inept,” Fryer said. “I watched that man die in my hands like that. I have to live with that.”

Besides state lawmakers, a task force created by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and led by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman is currently reviewing services for veterans offered at the Rocky Hill campus and elsewhere. Malloy’s recent budget included $500,000 to study how state buildings can best be put to use for veterans. The Rocky Hill campus has buildings that date back to the 1940s and older. Its main residential building has about 400 beds.

Both studies come as Malloy and others push to eliminate homelessness among Connecticut veterans. Advocates estimate the state has more than 500 homeless veterans.

Despite complaints about restrictions on where residents can smoke, “sloppy” meals, budget cuts, low morale among residents, and nurse’s aides ignoring patients while chatting on cellphones, nearly all the veterans who spoke Wednesday told lawmakers about how the home has saved people’s lives.

“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.”

Veteran Robert Sutton recalled how he showed up penniless at the gates of the Rocky Hill facility seven years ago. He said a staff member “who had a heart” found him a bed and ultimately changed his life. Sutton spoke with pride about how he now has a place to live and work, where he earns enough money to pay his $200 monthly rent and still have enough left over to buy back-to-school supplies for his grandchildren.

“This place has done so much for my soul because it has allowed me to lift myself back up,” he said.

Staff members for the Program Review and Investigations Committee have determined the home’s nursing care facility is nearly full, but multiple residential buildings on the campus have substantial vacancies.

State Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, the committee’s co-chair, said she expects the final report, which will also examine how similar, successful programs are operated elsewhere, will be ready by the end of December.

The new session of the General Assembly begins Jan. 7

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