Young and Hungry

Vets Abandon VA Cafeteria

John Thomas and Colonel Boaz, both 56, Vietnam vets, and wheelchair users, place a lot of value in a smile. Thomas has been at the VA Medical Center at 50 Irving St. NW for a year and four weeks. He has gone through difficult back surgery and is waiting on a prosthetic leg. Boaz has been at the same facility since late January and has undergone eight surgeries to hustle the sluggish flow of blood in his lower extremities.

Lunch is an ideal time to escape the cold realities of "hell," as one of them terms the VA location. Sit back, enjoy a good meal, shoot the shit.

Yet there's no escape to be had at the VA's cafeteria, in the view of Thomas and Boaz. "There's always someone complaining about something," says Boaz. The food's not too good, either.

And so every couple of days, Thomas and Boaz rev up their motorized wheelchairs, hit the concrete, and wheel on down to the Washington Hospital Center cafeteria, where a whole new lunchtime world opens up for them. Says Thomas: "The people who serve you the food are nice. They greet you with a smile. It makes a hell of a lot of difference." A highlight today: An employee of the WHC cafeteria arranged their table so that they could fit their wheelchairs under it. Don't get that kind of service at the VA.

On this outing. Thomas is enjoying a fried shrimp dish and some fries; Boaz is working the chicken alfredo and a cheesecake, along with a fruit crisp. Both declare their meals "excellent."

At just after 2:00 p.m., the two men wheel out of the cafeteria en route back to their low-morale bastion. They'll make the quarter-mile trip really fast, because they've souped up their wheelchairs. Asked how they managed such a feat, they decline comment.

Reporting by Jason Cherkis

  • Marietta

    I have been working at the VA Hospital for a year and a couple of months. I know John Thomas and Colonel Boaz because they have both been inpatients on the ward I work. I don't blame them from going to WHC at all. I too have been down to the cafeteria and although they remodeled which makes it look more inviting the food is still not up to par. Plus the prices are ridiculous. Many times i have hiked to WHC although i don't do it often because my lunch break is 30 minutes and by the time i reach the cafeteria and make it back to work, thirty minutes have passed. As an employee of the VA Hospital I have always found it quite strange that when i do go to the cafeteria at WHC, VA employees receive a discount. The same amount of food I get at WHC (which is delicious) is half price to the food i get from the cafeteria which has an acquired taste. To be honest....I only eat the pizza.