Many people don't know that VA has its own police force, but VA employs nearly 4000 police officers in their medical facilities. However, according to a recent inspector general report, VA has failed to properly manage its police, leading to a variety of issues including lapsed firearm records, insufficient training, otherwise unnecessary overtime costing taxpayers millions of dollars, lapsed security plans, and a lack of oversight of critical events.
One such critical event occurred on May 10th of this year at the Kansas City, Missouri VA Medical Center. A 66-year old veteran, Mr. Dale Fahrner, was found to be severely injured following a traffic stop by a VA police officer on VA property. Two days later, that veteran died. There was an autopsy and an investigation into the incident was apparently begun.
However, more than seven months later that investigation has not yet concluded.
Furthermore, VA has refused to say what happened or what they've discovered regarding the incident to date. They've even refused a request for the information submitted by a journalist under the Freedom of Information Act. Also, because the investigation is categorized as still underway, the county medical examiner who conducted the autopsy is prevented from releasing their report - even though it was completed months ago. The only reason we know anything at all is because USA Today managed to obtain an internal report which described event and the veteran’s death. It does not identify how the veteran obtained his injuries or if they were obtained during his traffic stop, though.
Police officers have incredibly difficult jobs. We ask them to risk their lives to ensure that laws are enforced. When they are inadequately trained or managed, bad things happen. Did this veteran die as a result of VA's negligent supervision? The very lack of adequate management which may have caused this problem, may also be preventing the investigation from concluding in a timely manner. Meanwhile, the veteran's loved ones (including the veteran's son who watched the police officer throw his father to the ground) have no answers.
The delay in the investigation has led to a rare bi-partisan congressional effort: Both Missouri's Senators (a Republican and a Democrat) have written a letter to the current Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilkie, asking him to release some information regarding this incident or explain why they cannot.
VA's most serious responsibility is to the wellbeing of its veterans. Part of that effort means ensuring that veterans' lives and property are secure. It is incumbent on VA to ensure that its police force is adequately trained and supervised. Otherwise, people are harmed, and those incidents may expose VA to lawsuits. In failing this, VA fails to keep its promise to veterans.
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