Even by the distinctly low standards of what the government is prone to spend taxpayer funds on, a series of purchase order requests by the federal government for security and police designed to guard — of all places — Veterans Affairs facilities is a new, strange nadir.
According to The Intercept, the federal government has ramped up spending in one curious area, beefing up its riot gear for federal police protecting VA facilities.
This has been done under the aegis of a special authorization designed to expedite requests “in response to Covid-19 outbreak.”
In addition to that, the VA’s special contracts for security services have been extended.
The orders include, according to The Intercept, “disposable cuffs, gas masks, ballistic helmets, and riot gloves, along with law enforcement protective equipment” for federal police guarding VA health care centers around the country.
This isn’t the first time, believe it or not, that riot gear has gone to VA police departments.
The Intercept reported previously that “[b]etween 2005 and 2014, VA police departments acquired millions of dollars’ worth of body armor, chemical agents, night vision equipment, and other weapons and tactical gear.”
However, a December 2018 report from the VA’s Office of the Inspector General found that they “did not have adequate and coordinated governance over its police program to ensure effective management and oversight for its approximately 4,000-strong police officer workforce,” which isn’t a particularly comforting thought.
And how did we get there, one wonders?
“In the summer of 2000, less than 20 VA hospitals had an armed police force. Today, more than 1,900 of VA’s approximately 2,200 police officers carry a firearm,” a 2002 VA publication noted.
We’re now at the point where they have night vision equipment — and for what? Are they doing tactical strikes protecting their local VA?
One clue might be found in this paragraph in The Intercept’s Sunday report: “Redcon Solutions Group, a private security company founded by Iraq War veterans, has won over $1.6 million in contracts to provide guards for ‘Covid-19 screening security guard services.’ Similar contracts have gone out to private security firms to guard VA facilities in San Francisco, Des Moines, and Fayetteville, among others.”
This is apparently a major concern among those currently working at the VA — that COVID-19 testing could end up posing a danger to the VA police force.
Not only was there “a rise in absentee staff due to childcare issues, school closures, and planned spring break absences. One facility reported absenteeism of older employees due to concerns with their own safety in light of COVID-19 risks,” according to a VA OIG report from March 19-24, but there was also “the need for additional police presence for COVID-19-related screenings. The remaining two facilities were concerned with the potential need for additional police presence in a surge and budget-related issues.”
Fair enough, but what’s the riot gear for again?
Governments should be afraid of their people, mind you, but not like this. There’s no outstanding security issue at our VA health facilities at the moment that would warrant this equipment, and the mere suggestion there might be by purchasing this COVID-related minatory ephemera is an insult not only to the American taxpayer but to the veterans who the VA serves.
I understand that this was money that was probably out there for the taking and that agencies which are eligible always find reasons to take it whether they need to or not.
But the last thing our veterans want to see is their own health care facilities being militarized.
In the very best situation, gas masks and riot gloves sit unused in a police locker inside the VA police facility, gathering dust and reminding us all how we were willing to set fire to piles of money in the spring of 2020 as if the vaccine for the novel coronavirus was somehow inside one of those $100 bills and needed to be released via immolation.
At worst, the riot gear gets used in a disproportionate show of force that makes us wish we had burned that money.
The VA has had enough problems over the past decade or so to that it doesn’t need its police force to be turned into NYPD riot cops. COVID-19 hasn’t changed that.
You don’t need to be a civil libertarian to realize the arrant danger this weapons buy — and make no mistake, that’s what this is — puts our veterans in.
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