The simple truth?
We just don't know.
The American Spark
Have Police Been Abusing Our Veterans At VA Hospitals?
By Cliff Montgomery - Sept. 30th, 2020
There currently is a lot of protest over the unnecessary use of force that police officers use on U.S. citizens,
with a special emphasis on the questionable actions often perpetrated on our non-white citizens.
We at the Spark suspect that some people in this country feel that such worries do not directly concern them.
These people forget that when the rights of even one citizen is denied, the rights of every citizen is in jeopardy.
Stated simply, if some police officers come to believe that they need not fear using acts of arbitrary violence
and cruelty upon one group of citizens, they may soon feel that they can use such tactics on other citizens as
For instance, a number of our nation’s veterans who seek medical aid for their conditions at Veterans Affairs
(VA) facilities may well have been abused by police officers, according to an eye-opening study recently
released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
But we just don’t know what has been happening at these facilities, as “VA data on use of force incidents are
not sufficiently complete and accurate for reporting numbers or trends at medical centers nationwide,” stated
GAO’s analysis on the matter.
Below, The American Spark offers quotes from the ‘Highlights’ section of the GAO report:
Why GAO Did This Study
“About 5,000 VA police officers are responsible for securing and protecting 138 VA medical centers across
the country. These officers are authorized to investigate crimes, make arrests, and carry firearms.
“The Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 included a provision that GAO assess aspects
of the VA police services. This report addresses (1) what the VA’s policies are on the use of force by police
officers at medical centers, and what training officers receive on the use of force; (2) how VA records and
investigates use of force incidents at medical centers; and (3) the extent to which VA sufficiently collects and
analyzes use of force data at medical centers. [...]
What GAO Found
“The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) policy on use of force states that police officers must use the
minimal level of force that is reasonably necessary to gain control of a situation and should only utilize
physical control methods on an individual when the force is justified by the individual’s actions. To guide
officers,VA developed a Use of Force Continuum Scale to define and clarify the categories of force that
can be used.
“According to VA policy, all police officers must receive training on the VA’s use of force policy when hired and
bi-annually thereafter. Officers are trained—through classroom lectures and scenarios that emphasize
effective communication techniques—to use the minimal level of force to de-escalate a situation.
“Officers record use of force incidents electronically and the chief of police decides which, if any, use of force
incidents need to be investigated in accordance with VA guidance.
“Chiefs of Police at the six facilities GAO visited conducted investigations in a similar manner, by reviewing
evidence and comparing an officer’s action with the VA’s use of force policy to determine whether actions
“While most investigations are conducted at the local level, VA headquarters may also run investigations for
certain incidents, such as when it receives a complaint against an officer. VA police officers record incidents
in a database, Report Executive, but GAO’s analysis indicates that VA data on use of force incidents are not
sufficiently complete and accurate for reporting numbers or trends at medical centers nationwide.
“For example, GAO found that 176 out of 1,214 use of force incident reports did not include the specific type
of force used. Further, Report Executive does not track incidents by individual medical centers.
“By addressing these limitations, VA can more effectively monitor use of force trends by type of force or
medical facility, among other variables, to understand the VA’s use of force incidents nationwide.
“GAO also found that VA does not systematically collect or analyze use of force investigation findings from
local medical centers, limiting its ability to provide effective oversight. Specifically, there is no policy requiring
Chiefs of Police to submit all investigations on use of force to VA headquarters, and VA does not have a
database designed to collect and analyze data on use of force investigations.
“Collecting and analyzing such data nationwide would allow VA to better assess the impact of its de-
escalation policies and improve the agency’s oversight efforts.
What GAO Recommends
“GAO is making five recommendations, including that VA improve the completeness and accuracy of its use
of force data; implement a tool to analyze use of force incidents at medical centers nationwide; ensure that
medical centers submit all use of force investigations to VA headquarters; and analyze the use of force
“The VA concurred with each of GAO’s recommendations.”
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