SAN DIEGO – Veterans were horrified while seeking VA health care on Wednesday when approached by Homeland Security police in an Operation Shield exercise. 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.
According to reports, 20 officers from the DHS Federal Protective Service (FPS) dressed in full black combat gear crowded at the entrance of VA Mission Valley Health Care Clinic on Wednesday. These officers were not wearing any name tags and refused to identify themselves. Four bomb-sniffing dogs accompanied the secretive police group that arrived at the facility in 8 white SUVs marked “FPS”, which then blocked all access to parking for disabled veterans. Veterans arriving for care were alarmed and some frightened away.
VA Mission Valley Health Care Clinic houses numerous service centers including a general practice clinic, psychiatric clinic, PTSD treatment clinic, and the disability compensation evaluation clinic. The impact of this event on veterans is disturbing.
The advocacy group, Honoring Our Troops (HRT), promptly wrote a formal complaint to VA OIG in Washington, DC after fielding numerous communications from veterans who were shocked by these recent federal secret police actions. OIG has yet to formally acknowledge receipt of their complaint since it was filed several days ago.
According to HRT’s OIG complaint, veterans on site were harassed and threatened when they took pictures and asked questions about this bizarre behavior. One veteran was threatened with a fine of $10,000 and arrest if he did not delete a photo he had taken. Another elderly veteran refused to enter the clinic with his wife. When the veteran’s wife asked a VA doctor about the action, she was told it was a “familiarization exercise.” Is this the new normal at VA facilities that veterans must become familiarized with and used to? And why? What justifies this kind of action by the Feds?