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VA police body slammed veterans, killing some of them

Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, left, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Undersecretary of Defense and Chief Financial Officer Honorable Robert F. Hale, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno provide testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee concerning the fiscal year 2013 budget submission from the Department of Defense. (Peter Lawlor/U.S. Navy)
June 12, 2019

Veterans have been body slammed to the ground and some have died from injuries sustained by excessive force encounters with Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) police, according to recent Congressional testimony.

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a public hearing on Tuesday during which new details were shared on the troubling encounters between veterans and VA police, USA Today reported Tuesday.

Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice said one of her New York constituents, a veteran with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sought therapy at a VA hospital following spinal surgery, but he became frustrated with incorrect referrals. After several negative experiences where he wasn’t being treated, VA police were eventually called and they responded with excessive force.

“He was literally body slammed onto the ground, with his arms twisted behind his back,” Rice said. “This is someone who was post spinal surgery – he informed them of that, ‘I can’t breathe, I just had spinal surgery.’”

The excessive force incident took place in June 2018.

A VA hospital said the veteran, Jean Telfort, could no longer receive therapy from a civilian doctor. They referred Telfort to another facility, which ultimately did not offer therapy. Then, Telfort was referred to the VA hospital in Northport, N.Y., where the incident occurred after he grew frustrated with the runaround process.

Police cuffed Telfort and held him to the ground. A physical therapist who treated Telfort attested that he was not a threat, but police didn’t move.

Telfort later had to appear in federal court for charges brought against him, now deferred. It was later revealed that a VA worker had input fraudulent information in his file.

Telfort’s experience isn’t an isolated incident.

“This incident keeps going on and on and on,” Rice said. “The questions that I have are many.”

One veteran ended up dead after an encounter with VA police.

The 65-year-old veteran attempted to leave a VA hospital in 2011 after waiting hours for a procedure, but VA police would not allow it.

“They pretty much took him, slammed him to the ground, hit his head and he ended up dying,” said Democratic Rep. Gilbert Cisneros, a vocal critic of the VA police.

Another identical incident at a Missouri VA hospital in May 2018 resulted in another veteran’s death.

“I mean really what are they doing over there,” Cisneros asked. “Why are we having these situations where individuals are being injured or hurt or killed?”

One investigation that concluded in December 2018 attributed the incident to management failures and staffing shortages. The agency employs approximately 4,000 police officers.

VA officials said at the hearing that they have appointed new security management and police supervisors as a means of improving management, along with improvements in officer training.