How well does the Department of Veterans Affairs meet the needs of New York City-area veterans? And what could be done to improve the level of care? The Indypendent recently spent an afternoon talking with local vets outside the Manhattan VA hospital at First Avenue and East 23rd Street.
Photos by Giulia Olsson and Alex Ellefson. Photo credits, top to bottom: 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 Olsson; 4, 6, 8 Ellefson.
Mr. Baker \ Served 1980–82 \ Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn
The VA could use some improvement. They need more doctors. They need more funding. There’s a lot of red tape that has to be cut. You know, veterans are getting the short end of the stick on everything.
We shouldn’t have to wait. We fought, some of us died, some us got permanent injuries. We did our time. We paid our dues. There should be housing, there should be food if we need it. They spend billions of dollars on weapons systems. They should spend that money on our care.
It’s easy to send us out to war but they forgot their promise that when we got back, they would take care of us.
Lee Albertorio \ Served 2007–11 \ Bushwick, Brooklyn
I think more government funding would help. A lot of people need these services and not a lot of resources are available to them.
I’m actually unemployed right now so I don’t have insurance. This is the only place I can come to right now, it’s all I have.
Matthew Lyon \ Served 2007–10
If I could see one reform, I think the staff have a lot of stress and I think there should be something, not monetary compensation, but some kind of show of genuine appreciation for them. They’re being overworked and need something to boost morale. Maybe employ more people to lessen the load? And that would help them give veterans better, more personal care. But there needs to be something done to help the workers, because if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t come here.
Jay Little \ Served 2010–11 \ Inwood, Manhattan
There’s a bunch of guys in here that’s not getting the care they need. They come in here, and they have to wait months and months and months. These people seriously got problems. They get an appointment for three months down the road — that’s just too much time. I see why soldiers, veterans, go out and do the things they do. Like that one guy who killed himself just a while ago in Arizona.
It’s just upsetting that veterans can’t get the care they need. This is the only option for me because it’s free. Go anywhere else and I gotta pay from my pocket, $400 or $500 every month.
Mohammed Ahmed \ Served 2000–08 \ Woodside, Queens
When I got out of the military, I didn’t have a job, so I didn’t have health insurance. I still don’t have health insurance, so I wouldn’t be able to see a doctor without the services of the VA. From my point of view, I don’t complain. At least I have health care.
Ernest Pavia \ Served 1967–68 \ Union City, New Jersey
I just went to the eye doctor. I was up there for two hours, and they wanted me to wait some more. They wanted me to wait so they could tell me I’m going blind?
I think the VA problems have to do with the amount of patients. Everybody is coming in now ‘cause they’re learning about the VA. The new veterans, from Afghanistan and Iraq, they’re coming in to try and get their compensation. But they ain’t giving it to them. They lose a leg, and they still don’t give it to them.
Harvell Ford \ Served 1973–77 \ Bronx
I have a rare kidney disease and my doctors call me and let me know if my kidneys are going bad. They constantly stay in touch with me. They remind me about my appointments and things. I mean, everything needs work but I prefer to come to the VA. If I go to any other hospitals, I have to wait forever. I come here, there may be a little wait time but I’m seen right away. I could walk right in and talk to my primary care doctor if I needed to. If you go into another hospital, into the ER at 10 o’clock at night, you’re not going to see anyone for hours.
Rafael Fontanez Martinez \ Served in Vietnam \ Homeless
The problem with the VA is this: If you’re not 100 percent qualified, you’re not entitled to total rights. It means if you’re not 100 percent like me, it means they’ll just put you on the back of the list. The whole VA needs to be restructured, starting from the bottom. There’s actually a lot of good work, but there’s a lot of rotten apples that don’t let the good workers do their job. They don’t wanna process out applications. They use the discouragement tactic. I’m so disgusted at them.