Last Wednesday DHS Federal Protective Service (FPS) showed up the VA Mission Valley Health Care Clinic in San Diego in 8 white vans in full combat dress that lacked any identification and, refusing to identify themselves, blocked all access to parking for disabled veterans. Veterans arriving for care were quite alarmed and some were frightened away.
According to a formal complaint filed with VA OIG, veterans on site were harassed and threatened when they took pictures and questioned what was happening. One veteran was even threatened with $10,000 fine and arrest if he didn’t delete a photo he took.
The exercise was for the purpose of “presence deterrence” at a VA health care facility in San Diego. Many veterans’ legal advocates are concerned about what this “presence deterrence” actually means and what it seeks to accomplish for veterans needing care.
Navy Captain Joseph John (Ret), chairman of Combat Veterans For Congress PAC, was not surprised when the report crossed his desk. After a cursory investigation, Capt. John concluded, “Due to [confidentiality] concerns, we can only get personnel in the office of Honoring Our Troops to tell us that the parties who witnessed the exercise [saw. The witnesses included] a retired Navy Chief, employees of the VA Medical Center, patients inside the building, etc., who witnessed armed FPS officers in SWAT gear walking up and down the corridors inside the VA Medical Clinic in Mission Valley.”
Capt. John opposes unannounced police actions at VA medical facilities that resemble “para-military exercises.” His deepest concerns are for elderly veterans with “heart conditions, suffering from PTSD, or elderly Veterans from the WWII or Korean era could be frightened and negatively affected by these [secret police] exercises in the middle of [their medical treatments].” For these reasons, Capt. John believes DHS and its FPS division “should be prevented from holding these para-military exercises at any VA medical Center,” especially during patient treatment and service times during the day.
Since the OIG complaint, HRT received numerous threatening calls to their organization’s volunteers by individuals whom they believed were VA or DHS employees. Callers blasted the organization saying, “VA does not need this type of exposure right now; bringing this up will not help veterans.” Other harassing calls threatened the staff with stalking and investigations into their own personal conduct. According to HRT, the calls were all blocked to hide the caller’s phone number.
A spokesman for the San Diego VA Regional Office, Alejandro Mendio la Flores,verified this FPS police action and stated it was part of Operation Shield for “presence deterrence.” VA claims the official count of FPS officers was only 8, and that the FPS does not owe VA any explanation for its actions or training exercises — even if it affects a VA medical facility or its patients. Nor does DHS-FPS have to give VA any advance notice that these exercises will occur or get VA’s permission to conduct them. Just what is going on here?
VA already has in place a “patient security flag” procedure under VHA Directive 2010-053. Even though this procedure is completely illegal and occurs in secret VAMC staff councils behind closed doors, it is nevertheless the main device VA has created to deal with security issues with any veterans who give them reason to be concerned for potential violent incidents. The VA-OIG made a rather shocking report about this illegal procedure just last year — and any lawyer or judge who reads it would be horrified at the blatant “due process” violations, since veterans cannot know who made the complaints about them or in any way have a chance to refute or defend against false allegations by VA staff. See OIG Report No. 11-02585-129, March 7, 2013.