A 65-year-old Native Vietnam veteran staying at the Ashland Rehabilitation Center and Nursing Facility in Ashland, Virginia has recently had his traditional long hair cut off without the permission of his family. Barry Leno, (Algonquin, Seneca) who has had his hair in a traditional ponytail for decades and suffers from dementia, cried when his wife arrived at the facility recently and asked what happened.
According to Leno’s wife, Lillian Leno, she went to visit her husband in the facility February 4 and discovered his hair was cut to above his shoulders. She said she was devastated to see her husband cry as he explained that his hair had been cut.
Barry Leno with his Ponytail in 2010
“I don’t know… (what happened,),” Lillian said. “I came in yesterday to visit him and his pony tail was cut off. We have been married 32 years and he has had it as long as that. I asked him what happened, he said ‘I don’t know,’ and he started crying. He said ‘they cut it off.”
Lillian says that at first no one would answer her questions as to why her husband’s hair was cut, but the following morning she received a phone call in which a nurse told her Barry had asked to have it cut off. She was furious that his hair had been cut without informing her, as she has Power of Attorney for all matters involving her husband.
Barry, says he was very upset by the matter. “I have no reason as to why they cut my hair,” he said. “I am not happy about it at all. My wife told me, ‘they cut your hair.’ I feel like shit about it if you have to know the truth. This is just awful.”
“If this was a hygiene thing they were doing, they would have shaved him too,” she said. “But I saw him and he had whiskers, and his face looks like it hasn’t been shaved in a few days.”
“I had so many mixed emotions yesterday. We have always talked about how he wanted to go to his grave with his ponytail. Now it is not there and we are just hoping it grows back. If anyone was to cut it off, it should be me to save it and it’s gone,” Lillian said.
“I’ve gone to look at another facility to get him moved, they are not sure if they are going to be able to take him,” she said.
Family friend and fellow veteran Odessa Maxwell says she as well as others in the Native and veteran communities are outraged that Barry, who has appeared in Time Life’s book, “The Vietnam Experience – Images of War,” had his haircut without his wife’s knowledge.
“He’s been at this home for a while. They cut his hair and they would not answer her questions,” said Maxwell. “So many of us in the veteran and Native American communities are outraged. I was like ‘really?’ You need to have sensitivity to other cultures.”
According to Lillian, administrators at the facility claim they are sorry and that efforts will be made to accommodate patients, one review on Google+ states the following:
“This facility should be shut down immediately!!! My dad was sent there for rehab. He has not had a bath in the 45 days that he was there. He ended up getting a UTI that was left untreated. My dad has become septic and nearly died thanks to these neglectful people. I doubt that the staff would want their loved ones treated this way!!! You reap what you sow.”
In a formal attempt to obtain comments from the Ashland Rehabilitation Center, administrative representative Torri Robinson says they are not offering comments at this time.