According to recent Congressional testimony, veterans seeking medical treatment at VA hospitals across the country have been victims of excessive force at the hands of VA police. Last week, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing, during which new details emerged regarding excessive force between veterans and VA police. Shockingly, these incidents aren’t exactly isolated events, and some have even resulted in death.
During the hearing testimony, several individuals recalled the incidents of VA police brutality. One witness described a VA police officer throwing a New York veteran, who was seeking therapy after undergoing spinal surgery, to the ground – literally body-slamming him to the floor after he became upset with staff over incorrect referrals. There was also a veteran from California who, in 2011, died after being body-slammed by VA police and hitting his head on the ground, and a Missouri veteran who died, after he was found severely injured and nearly unconscious following a traffic stop by a VA police officer in May of 2018. There was even testimony that a VA police officer training to be an instructor at the national VA police academy threatened employees with a gun at a Massachusetts car dealership.
The underlying question is: What is in the world going on with the VA police? In December of 2018, an investigation of the VA police force – led by the agency’s inspector general – concluded that systemic management failures had resulted in short-staffing and missed opportunities to ensure that staff and veteran patients were protected. Senior VA executives testified that the agency has hired a new security manager and appointed police supervisors in every VA region in effort to improve management. Additionally, officer training has been recently extended and includes a focus on de-escalating situations rather than confronting them head on.
The VA employs roughly 4,000 officers at 139 medical centers. These officers are to play a critical role in securing property, preventing and investigating crimes, and often intervening to help patients or staff during potentially deadly incidents. However, from the accounts above, it sounds like VA police are responsible for these deadly incidents as well, and it’s wrong.
It’s extremely troubling to think that our nation's veterans can risk their lives to fight for our freedom, only to be killed or injured by those officers sworn to protect them. I appreciate the sacrifice made, and the risk taken, by police officers when they leave each day for work. However, these officers are not totally immune from the consequences of their actions. They should be held accountable when unnecessary excessive force is used, resulting in substantial injury or even death to our veterans. It’s a shocking and horrifying example of the potential realities faced by our veterans at VA hospitals, and it needs to stop.