ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Several current and former employees of the Rochester Veterans Outreach Center (VOC) said they’ve witnessed the mistreatment of Black veterans for years.

Thursday and Friday, community advocates joined veterans to detail their complaints and call for a change of administration and other reforms they say are needed to address racism at the VOC.

“We heard a black veteran who served this country say that this place put him out on one of the coldest days of winter,” said Howard Eagle who organized a protest outside the VOC.

Marcus Thompson said he was thrown out of the shelter because he complained about VOC staff going through his personal belongings while he was at work.

“They ended up kicking me out,” said Thompson. “I had to stay in my van. This was back in March, one of the coldest days of the wintertime.” Thompson says he almost lost his thumb due to frostbite.

A former employee of the center said he resigned after witnessing the mistreatment of Thompson and other fellow veterans.

“I served this country very well. I have two combat tours under my belt so when I see others say I need help, I feel the need to help that individual and this program just doesn’t do that,” said Adrian Reed.

Reed said he served in the U.S. Army during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Laura Stradley the Executive Director of Rochester’s Veterans Outreach Center categorically denied any mistreatment of veterans.

Stradley, also a US Army Veteran provided two statements in which she encouraged both veterans and employees to discuss their concerns with VOC staff and executives.

In a statement provided by Stradley, she said:

VOC serves every veteran with compassion, love and care; most of our staff are veterans as well. We provide a safe place for veterans in need, including our residential facilities. Our residential programs are governed with the support and collaboration of a number of community and government agencies. We do have certain rules and programmatic guidelines that must be followed for everyone’s safety, but any suggestion of mistreatment is categorically incorrect. As always and in every program, our veterans have an open door policy with all staff, the Executive Director, and the Board of Directors. 

We deeply value all who have worn their nation’s uniform, and we respect the challenges they often face following their homecoming. We invite any veteran who has concerns or questions to discuss them with us so that we can continue to support them in their journey after service.   

Those who organized Friday’s protest say they will be taking further action, but did not provide details.

You can read the Veteran Outreach Center’s full response to the allegations here:

Veterans Outreach Center is and always has been an Equal Opportunity Employer. We adhere to all NY State Labor department hiring practices. We make this statement with pride and resolve to always be fair and equitable in all we do. It is in the DNA of our agency, it is written in our values statement for all to see.

Recently, several former agency employees have chosen to make public their personal grievances by challenging our commitment to diversity in our workforce.  Let me assure you that in each and every instance, we make our staffing decisions based on experience, performance, and merit.

It is always difficult when performance issues force us to sever ties with an employee who has been found to be lacking in their work.  Our standard practice is to identify the problem and create a solution-based process for corrective action but at some point, we must put the quality of service to veterans first and make the difficult decision to sever ties. For some, this can be an emotionally wrenching situation. 

Today, we acknowledge that it is every person’s right as American Citizens to stand in protest for what they believe is an injustice.  Ironically, their right to do so is exactly what many of the veterans we serve have fought to protect…their constitutional right to free speech. We invite anyone who has a grievance to sit down with us and through meaningful and professional dialogue, find a common ground answer to their concerns.