Commissioner Ron Welch (BG Ret.) invites Connecticut Veterans to join him, members of the DVA Board of Trustees, DVA Staff and Residents, and State and Federal level dignitaries at the CT DVA’s Black History Month Celebration event. The event will take place on Thursday, February 22, 2024 at 10:00 A.M. at the DVA’s Gold Star Families Memorial Auditorium. Our Keynote speaker is Board of Trustee member Dr. Carlita Cotton. For more information press here

Overview

History & Current Services

The rich legacy of Connecticut providing care for Veterans and their dependents stretches back to July 4, 1864, when Benjamin Fitch, philanthropist of Darien, established the home for Civil War veterans, and the children of men killed in that war. Benjamin Fitch, being too old to fight in the Civil War, helped organize a Regiment of124 Darien Residents who served in the 28th Regiment, ten of whom die during the war. Mr. Fitch promised to care for the families of soldiers in this and other Regiments. This concern led to the establishment of the Fitch Home for Soldiers and their Orphans in 1864. Benjamin Fitch donated the original five acres and $100,000 for the construction of the Home. Shortly thereafter, four two-story buildings were erected on five acres, and the Home was dedicated on July 4, 1864 by the renowned Horace Greeley, Editor of the New York Tribune. Benjamin Fitch’s Home also received the support of General Grant and President Andrew Johnson. The complex of buildings included a hospital, chapel, library, residence hall, and administrative facilities and was known as Fitch’s Home for Soldiers and their Orphans.

  

From 1864 to 1887 the Fitch Home served hundreds of wartime orphans and thousands of Veterans.  Benjamin Fitch died in 1883 at the age of 81 and following his death, conditions at the Home deteriorated. On January 15, 1887, seventeen voters of the Town petitioned the Selectmen for a meeting to ask the General Assembly for "such legislation as will more fully promote the well-being of the inmates of Fitch’s Home for Soldiers and increase the efficiency of said institution." The petition bore the names of Weed, Hoyt, Mather, Morehouse, Whitney, and others. By 1888, the State assumed responsibility for operating the Fitch Home, and the Soldier’s Hospital Board took over the management of the Home.

Over two thousand of those veterans now rest in the Spring Grove Cemetery in Darien, the first official State Veterans Cemetery. Photographs taken of the Fitch Home and enrollment records demonstrate that at the turn of the 19th century black veterans resided at the Home long before the military service branches were integrated. The Home eventually expanded from 5 acres to 12 acres with another 5 acres across the street and 2 more acres at Spring Grove Cemetery. The Home steadily grew from 197 resident soldiers in 1889 to 500 soldiers in 1905 and 547 veterans in 1910. The Fitch home officially became the Connecticut State Veterans Home and Hospital in 1940 and relocated to its current campus in Rocky Hill, Connecticut.

In the 1920’s movies were shown twice a week at the chapel of the Home. These movies had no sound and were usually Westerns. The movies were for the old soldiers and the neighbors in the area. The Soldiers Home also had the first and purportedly the best radio in the neighborhood.  Darien residents recall that between World War I and World War II, the Commandant of the Home gave an address on Memorial Day. Several hundred veterans would march from the Fitch Home down Noroton Avenue to the Spring Grove Cemetery. The soldiers march wearing their Civil War blue uniforms with black hats, or the younger veterans in their Khaki uniforms, rank after rank of them, all very somber and thoughtful. The disabled veterans came in buses. The spirit of Memorial Day was never stronger in Darien. Here were hundreds of veterans marching to pay their respects to fellow veterans. There are over two thousand soldiers buried at Spring Grove Cemetery.

By 1929 the State Veterans’ Home Commission was responsible for the management of the Fitch Soldiers Home. At that time, there were only 117 veterans in residence. In 1931, the Fitch Home was expanded. The hospital was enlarged and two new dormitories were constructed. This expansion increased accommodations from 375 to 500 veterans in The Home itself and another 250 veterans in the hospital unit. During the Depression in the 1930’s, soldiers flocked to the Fitch Home. In 1932 the number of soldiers in residence had increased to 1,000. Overcrowding was particularly severe during the cold winter months. In 1934 the State Veterans Home Commission complained to Governor Wilbur Cross about the crowded conditions. In October of 1931, the Veterans Home Commission voted to abandon the Fitch Home and seek a site of not less than 150 acres elsewhere in the state.

The Darien Review reported that on January 31, 1935, Civil War veteran Elvie Howe died at Fitch’s Soldiers Home at 99 year old. As of 1935, there were still three Civil War veterans living there.  When the Home was closed on August 28, 1940. The last living Civil War veteran at the Home, Edmund Kleespies (97), went down to the train along with William Cassidy (87) who was a veteran of the “Indian Wars.” A special train of 4 coaches and 2 baggage cars took the soldiers to their new home at Rocky Hill. Among the previously mentioned Veterans were 50 veterans of the Spanish American War, 10 of the Mexican War 0f 1917 and 499 veterans from World War I. The Last Commandant at the Fitch Home was Colonel Raymond F. Gates.

 

In 1986, Public Act 86-175 established the current Department of Veterans Affairs with a mission to connect Connecticut Veterans and their eligible dependents with information and support regarding state and Federal Veterans’ benefits. According to an Office of Legislative Research Report # 2020-R-0267 (2020), Individuals and the following organizations provided testimony before the legislative Public Safety Committee in support of the bills passing:

Vietnam Veterans of America, chapter 120

VFW, post 71

American Legion Post, post 45

Connecticut Veterans Coalition Forum

Veterans’ Home and Hospital

Disabled American Veterans, chapter 12

Vietnam Veterans Agent Orange Victims

Permanent Commission on the Status of Women and Governor’s Task Force on Women and Veterans

National Organization of Women, Connecticut Chapter

Veterans Administration Advisory Committee on Women Veterans

 

In 1988, Public Act 88-285 added official language stating that the Veterans Home and Hospital Shall be within the Department of Veterans Affairs. This established formal oversight responsibilities by the Veterans Affairs Commissioner.

The main campus of the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) is at 287 West Street, Rocky Hill, CT, consisting of 92 of the original 150 acres of property purchased by the State of Connecticut from the Gilbert Family. The DVA no longer operates a surgical hospital onsite as those responsibilities are provided by the Federal VA Healthcare System in CT at its West Haven and Newington locations. 

 

Currently at the DVA main Rocky Hill Campus the agency operates the following:

The Sgt John L. Levitow Healthcare Center a 125 bed Skilled Nursing Facility, certified for Medicare and Medicaid providing a variety of services for Veterans in need of long term care with neurological deficits, diabetes, cardio-pulmonary disease, renal disease, orthopedic, vascular disease, wound management and other diseases. Veterans are supported medically, socially and emotionally by onsite physicians, nurses, psychiatrists, Social workers, therapeutic and Recreational staff.