SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
Page 1 TOP OF DOCSAFETY AND SECURITY IN THE VA
THURSDAY, MAY 22, 1997
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations,
Committee on Veterans' Affairs,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 9:30 a.m. in room 334, Cannon House Office Building, Hon. Terry Everett (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Present: Representatives Everett, Clyburn, Snyder, Evans.
OPENING STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN EVERETT
Mr. EVERETT. The hearing will come to order. Please cease all conversations. Good morning. Today's hearing by the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will examine the safety and security of our veterans and our valued 240,000-plus VA employees. I've become increasingly concerned about personal safety issues at the VA after hearing about the tragic murder of Dr. Ralph Carter at the G.V. ''Sonny'' Montgomery Veterans' Affairs Medical Center in Jackson, FL, this past February. I understand that this is the second violent assault at this facility in less than 2 years. Other incidents at VA facilities have also raised complex questions about the safety of veteran and VA staff alike.
The VA's response has been to develop a pilot program to arm its hospital law-enforcement officers. The arming of VA police must be done at a very deliberate pace with stringent safeguards. Before going full-scale we must be confident that this is the right way to improve hospital security. We want to be reasonably assured that fire fights won't erupt in hospital lobbies, wards and parking lots. Standards for the VA should be no less than that for any other armed federal law-enforcement agency.
Page 2 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We will also examine the security of controlled drugs in VA hospitals, VA pharmacy operations which cost more than $1 billion this year. Due to the high value of the VA drug inventories with respect to theft, we'll examine how the VA has addressed accountability and security problems which have previously been identified by VA's I.G. Additionally, the VA still maintains 30 hospital fire stations with an annual operating budget of over $16.3 million and staffed with 357 fire fighters. Today we will review fire safety issues critical to our VA patients, employees and our fire fighters. I think we have a full plate for discussion today. I look forward to hearing testimony, and I would ask that all people testifying please condense your statements to 5 minutes. And now at this time I'd like to recognize our ranking member, Mr. Clyburn.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. JAMES E. CLYBURN
Mr. CLYBURN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As ranking Democratic member of this Committee, I'm pleased to join with you in holding this important hearing. I know that safety and security of our VA hospitals are of utmost importance to the VA and to members of this Committee. In my view, we would not be accomplishing our mission of providing the highest possible health-care service to our veterans if we are unable to protect the safety and integrity of our VA hospitals. I am greatly interested in hearing testimony from the VA on its pilot project to arm VA police officers at certain VA hospitals.
I'm aware that the tragic shooting of a doctor in Jackson, MS earlier this year has caused renewed concern over the adequacy of the safety and security of our VA hospitals. I must say, however, that I believe the VA ought to be taking a measured approach when it comes to making any final decision to arm its police officers. Very few private hospitals even in some of the dangerous crime-ridden areas of our country allow the officers who guard their facilities to carry guns. I believe there is a reason for this. As the written testimony of the Nurse's Association suggests, hospitals are for making sick people healthy; guns are for killing people. The VA should be extremely cautious in its approach to this issue. There should be an extensive, well-thought out hospital-by-hospital analysis of the feasibility and propriety of arming VA officers before jumping into such a course of action.
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC To my mind at least, it is just as easy to imagine a situation where a VA officer accidentally kills or seriously injures somebody during the course of his duties as it is to imagine a situation where the officer's gun keeps a killing or serious injury from occurring. I welcome the opportunity to hear testimony on this extremely sensitive issue, as well as the chance to get an update on the status of VA fire departments and the VA's accountability of controlled substances. Thank you again, Terry, for working with us to put together such a timely and important hearing.
[The prepared statement of Congressman Clyburn appears on p. 43.]
Mr. EVERETT. Thank you, Jim, and this Committee is honored to have the ranking member of the full Committee as a member of this Committee, and at this point I'd like to ask my ranking full Committee Chairmanfull Committee memberranking member if he has any comment.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. LANE EVANS, RANKING DEMOCRATIC MEMBER, FULL COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS
Mr. EVANS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I think this is a very important hearing with the VA right in the middle of its pilot program to arm VA police officers at selected cities. There's no more appropriate time than now to conduct diligent oversight of this program, and I of course share the concern about the recent efforts out at the Jackson, MS facility, and I'm also deeply troubled by the deaths of four VA police officers in the last 5 years. Safety and security of patients, law-enforcement personnel and the doctors and staff at our facilities has got to be an utmost priority and we should closely consider the means by which we can best accomplish this mission. I am pleased that John Baffa is testifying before us again. I think he has brought a new level of training and sophistication and effort on the part of the VA and I look forward to the testimony. Unfortunately, I will have to be attending the quadrennial review of the armed forces today with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, so I won't be able to stay for the hearing, Mr. Chairman, but I just wanted to thank you for your diligence and hard work.
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [The prepared statement of Congressman Evans appears on p. 43.]
Mr. EVERETT. Thank you, Lane. I'd like to welcome all the witnesses testifying today. At least one of our witnesses has traveled some distance to testify and I want to thank all of you in advance for being here. I would ask again that you limit your oral testimony to 5 minutes. Your complete written testimony will be made part of the official hearing record. We will ask members to hold questions until the entire panel has testified. I now recognize Mr. John Baffa, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Security and Law Enforcement and ask him to introduce the members of his panel before we go any further. Also, at the end of Mr. Baffa's 5-minute testimony I would askbe given an additional 5 minutes for a brief demonstration for a safety feature on this gun holster. Mr. Baffa assured me and assured the staff that the weapon is appropriately disabled and is not loaded. Mr. Baffa.
STATEMENT OF JOHN H. BAFFA, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR SECURITY AND LAW ENFORCEMENT, DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS; STATEMENT OF RICHARD P. MILLER, DIRECTOR, G.V. ''SONNY'' MONTGOMERY VETERANS AFFAIRS MEDICAL CENTER, VETERANS HEALTH ADMINISTRATION, DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS; ACCOMPANIED BY JOHN E. OGDEN, DIRECTOR, PHARMACY SERVICE, VETERANS HEALTH ADMINISTRATION, DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS; ACCOMPANIED BY KENNETH FAULSTICH, ENGINEERING MANAGEMENT AND FIELD SUPPORT OFFICE, VETERANS HEALTH ADMINISTRATION, DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
STATEMENT OF JOHN BAFFA
Mr. BAFFA. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee. I am pleased to be here today to discuss issues related to safety and security of VA facilities. With me today I have Mr. Richard Miller, Director of the VA Medical Center, in Jackson, MS; Mr. John Ogden, Director of Pharmacy Service in VHA; Mr. Kenneth Faulstich, fire protection engineer in VHA; and Mr. Walt Hall, Assistant General Counsel. VA's official statement provides details about security in law enforcement, the strides we have made in the area of securing in our pharmacies against theft, VA's fire protection program and the recent desecration of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. I think it is fitting that this hearing is being held just a few days after the National Police Week activities in which the President, Congress and the nation paid tribute to the police officers killed in the line of duty during 1996. This year as in years past my department has lost one of its own. Officer Hoerst Woods of Albuquerque was wantonly and without provocation gunned down in the VA parking lot in Albuquerque, NM. Officer Woods was unarmed. Seven years ago when I took this position I received beneficial insight, comments and advice from some members of this Committee and/or its staff. I feel I've answered every question, addressed every issue, calmed many fears and made many improvements. Recently, VA's magazine, ''The Vanguard,'' did its feature article on the VA police. It was entitled, ''VA Police: the Force is With Us.'' I think that one title emphasizes what we are all about and how we feel about our veterans and want our veterans to feel about us. In addition, the first sentence stated, and I quote, ''For the VA, the nineties have been a decade of reinvention. For the VA police, make that a transformation.'' We have increased the VA basic police training course to 160 hours. We have developed specialized training for chiefs and detectives. We have implemented a regimented monthly in-service training program for all officers at their stations. We have a police chief's intern. We have use of a K9 program for missing patient searches, security and the illegal drug interdiction. We have moved the physical location of the police officer at most hospitals to make them more visible to our customers. We have increased foot patrols and at some facilities instituted bicycle patrols to be more visible, closer and accessible to our customers.
Recently we have implemented a pilot program to arm our VA police at selected locations. In short, we have made significant strides, but we must go forward if we are to continue to provide a safe environment for our veterans and our employees. I spent 26 years, my entire adult working life, in federal law enforcement in protection of citizens of this country. The last 7 here in the VA have been challenging, sometimes frustrating but overall very rewarding. With the guidance and help of the Secretary we have accomplished much, but as I stated and you have articulated, we have much to do. I can assure you that my office is driven by the goal of providing a safe and secure environment for our veterans, their guests and the employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC With regard to pharmacy issues, since 1992 the House of Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on controls of addictive drugs and drug diversion, the VA has made significant progress. Working with the Office of the Inspector General, the General Accounting Office, and the Office of Security and Law Enforcement, the Veterans Health Administration has instituted regulations over the accountability of controlled substances that are more strict than any State or any other health-care system's requirements. My colleague, Mr. Ogden, is prepared to address these issues.
VA's fire safety program is another program that ensures the safety of our VA employees and the veterans. At the vast majority of the Department's medical centers the fighting services are provided by local community fire departments. In the event that local fire fighting services do not meet VA's minimum level of requirements, VA operates in-house fire departments. There are currently 30 in-house fire departments, each which is staffed by approximately 15 employees who are fire fighters. Mr. Ken Faulstich is here to provide details about the fire protection program. Additionally, there are two separate recent issues or events that have caused concern for VA employees, patients and visitors to the VA. One was the shooting at Jackson, Mississippi VMAC that resulted in the death of a patient and an employee and the desecration by vandals of the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
Mr. Chairman, my colleagues and I will be happy to answer any questions, but first it is my understanding you'd like to see a demonstration of the firearm and the safety factors, and I would like to have Mr. Bill Harper come up and show that to you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Baffa appears on p. 46.]
Mr. EVERETT. We'd be happy to honor your request to show that to us.
Mr. BAFFA. Bill? Sir, I'm going to show you that this gun is unloaded. You can see that it is unloaded. It's also been checked by the U.S. Capitol Police. There is no bullet in the chamber, and there's no bullet in the magazine. The question deals with the safety of this weapon. This weapon is double-action only. Actually, it works like a magazine-fed revolver. Thehammer never stays cocked, always traveling forward with the slide coming to rest in the double-action position. Each pull of the trigger draws the hammer back and releases to fire the pistol. This feature reduces the chance that the pistol will be accidentally fired. Number two, the magazine will not fireexcuse me, the weapon will not fire if the magazine is released. The pistol will not fire unless the magazine is fully seated even if there is a round in the chamber. This feature allows the officer to make the pistol nonoperational at any time by releasing the magazine with the touch of a button. The officer then may place the magazine in the holster pocket, making the weapon fully safe. It will only fire with a VA-issued magazine. The pistol and magazine have been specially designed by Beretta at no extra cost so they will only fire with the magazine issued to the officer. The pistol will not fire using the standard Beretta magazine. The weapon will not accidentally fire. The pistol has a firing pin block on the top of the slide which actually blocks the firing pin until the trigger is pulled. Even if the pistol is dropped, it will not fire. It also has a loaded chamber indicator. When there is a round in the chamber, the extractor claw protrudes, exposing a red slide. An officer can thereby easily determine visually without aiming the weapona weapon or a round in the chamber.
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Last but not least, we have a security holster, and it is considered a level three security holster. This holster is equipped with internal safety locking devices that drastically reduce, if not eliminate, the possibility of anyone other than the officer from drawing the weapon from the holster. Your staff member couldn't do it a couple days ago. We'd like to have this man who's never seen it try to pull that weapon out of the holster if you could. And I also would like to try it, and you can see how quickly the officer was able to get the weapon out. That right there plus the intense training both on the range and lectures make me believe this a totally safe weapon to be used in the hospital facility above and beyond what most police departments use nationwide. But anything else you'd like see with the weapon, sir? Are there any other aspects of the weapon you'd like to
Mr. EVERETT. I assume you were holding on down the holster just to keep it from coming upyou were holding the belt. I see.
Mr. BAFFA. Sir, he's the thinnest man I've got.
Mr. EVERETT. Well, we do congratulate you on this safety feature. I assumed it was something that VA came up with, or it may have existed already.
Mr. BAFFA. The holster existed already, sir. We have spent countless days and weeks studying and coming up with the best weapon as far as safety aspects go and the accompanying holster, to make sure thatnothing is totally fail safe, I wish I could give you that assurance, but we believe we have done the best possible to assure that nothing that concerns you would happen with this particular weapon.
Mr. EVERETT. Thank you very much.
Mr. BAFFA. Yes, sir. Sir, we will answer any questions you might have.
Mr. EVERETT. Do any other members of your staff wish to make any statements?
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BAFFA. I don't believe so, sir. We're ready to answer any questions that you the Chair or your colleagues have.
Mr. EVERETT. Well, first of all, I want to thank you for coming up and appearing here today. As I said, I congratulate you on those safety features. They are impressive. However, I will say that in the beginning that I have grave concerns about the idea of arming the security forces in VA hospitals. And we have some I think very straightforward and candid questions. We would appreciate answers likewise.
Mr. BAFFA. Yes, sir.
Mr. EVERETT. While myself and Jim, the ranking member of this Committee, are the only two here, I can assure you that that does not indicate the interest in this subject. This is a small Committee, but it is a Committee made up of Floyd Spence who is the Chairman of the National Security Committee, Bob Stump, the full VA Chairman, and as you heard just a moment ago, ranking member of the full Veterans' Committee who has gone for the QRD hearing which is going on along with this hearing, and of course that's where Chairman Stump and Chairman Spence are also. Let me begin by saying, if you would, explain to me why VA believes it's necessary at this time to have a pilot program to arm VA hospital police.
Mr. BAFFA. Mr. Chairman, we do not look at the weapon as a cure-all. We look at it as an additional tool. If you remember from my opening statement, we've done a lot of other things. We have instituted a K9 program.
Mr. EVERETT. Excuse me just a moment.
Mr. BAFFA. Yes, sir.
Mr. EVERETT. I'm going to dispense with the 5-minute rule. Only myself and our ranking member are here and I'm going to allow each of us as much time as we would like to explore this subject.
Mr. BAFFA. Yes, sir. As I was saying, I realize that the issuing of firearms is a very sensitive issue. It is with me and with the Secretary and Dr. Kaiser. I look at the firearm as an additional tool to help the police officer accomplish the goal of providing safety and security at a VA hospital. As I indicated, we have K9 programs. We instituted a program a couple of years ago which was vigorous patrol and getting out into the community, and if you'll note by reading the papers, the city of Washington and the city of New York have gone to the same theory, that if you get out there and meet with the people and you prevent crime, you don't respond to it. And our philosophy is you stop crime before it begins by not letting people who don't belong into the hospital into the hospital.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I'd like to give you an illustration of how I think the weapon helps, and there's three things with the weapon, and it's not shooting somebody. That's the final, ultimate thing that nobody wants it to. The VA police officers don't want to do it, I don't want it. Nobody in this room wants this to happen. But again, I like to use examples, and again, these are three examples, if they don't satisfy you, I will go on. In Richmond, VA, at our hospital, VA police around midnight approached a vehicle that was in the parking lot. These people had no reason being there. They were not veterans. They just consummated a drug deal and they were sitting there counting their money. They both had long criminal histories. The VA police approached them, asked them what they were doing and they immediately surrendered. After they were arrested, the one felon who was more than a three-time loser said, ''You know, if I had known these people were not armed I would have killed them because I have nothing to lose.'' So, the fact that an individual is armed is a deterrent, just that he's carrying the weapon.
Number two, and I'd like to give you a second illustration, I mentioned to you about Officer Hoerst Woods who was killed in Albuquerque, NM. After he was killed the assailant took the keys off of his belt and tried to steal the car and could not get the car. People heard gun shots go off and he started flailing his hands and no one could get to the injured officer because he was threatening to shoot them. The Air Police, and this is a joint facility, who are armed responded, drew their weapons, told them to surrender, and he finally did surrender. Again, a case where the weapon was used but it was not fired. The third case that I would like to use is Lake City, FL, where our police officers approached an individual who I believe the nursing staff had complained about was harassing them outside. He went up to the car. As he approached the car the man pulled a weapon out. The officer had nothing to do but turn and run and was shot in the back. After the officer was shot, who was the line of defense to gaining entry into the hospital, the individual then got into the hospital and shot the hospital up. So, I think those are three different areas where the use of a firearm probably would have been used, in the third case would have prevented those incidents from happening.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. EVERETT. The question was, why is it necessary at this time to have a pilot program? I gather from that answer that you're saying
Mr. BAFFA. Times are changing, sir. We're having more violent crime.
Mr. EVERETT. More violent crime?
Mr. BAFFA. More violent crime at our facilities. I've given you three examples of what's occurring on our facilities.
Mr. EVERETT. Let me ask you about that. Perhaps the figures I've seen are incorrect, but the figures I've seen of total crime including everything, violent crime, has dropped really about 20,000 instances from 1990 to 1994. Have I been given some wrong information? I think there were about 60,000 instances reported in 1990. Has the staff got that stuff somewhere? In 1994, about 40,000 instances.
Mr. BAFFA. I think those were disturbances. I don't think the title was violent incidents. I may stand corrected.
Mr. EVERETT. My information is it's all-inclusive.
Mr. BAFFA. All-inclusive. That's correct, sir. And again, that goes to the whole package that we're talking about. The more vigorous patrol, the use of the K9 program. We're getting too many people injured and killed and I think that the thing is, we want to serve our veterans and give them good health care, but we want to make sure our veterans and our staff feel safe and are willing to come to work to take care of that issue.
Mr. EVERETT. I'm sorry, the figures are 1990 to 1993, and this includes disturbances including bomb threats and threats to employees, manslaughter, rape, assaults, weapons possession, illegal drug cases, robberies, liquor possession. And in addition to that, further information that I had not seen until now shows that it's gone down from 1990 to 1996 from roughly 59,995 to 25,983. So, it's more than half the amount of violent crime that we've seen in the past.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BAFFA. Sir, I don't know if you have the same one that I have, and I'm checking it right now. If you look at 1994, it says, ''Disturbances including bomb threats and threats to employees,'' that has gone down. That is correct. That has gone down.
Mr. EVERETT. My staff tells me this information that I'm looking at and reading from was provided by the VA.
Mr. BAFFA. Right. Well, I'm not denying that. What I'm saying to you though, the one that you looked at, the major decreases in disturbances, and that's an all-fitting category. If you look at assaults, I'd like you to look at assaults, you will see that the assaults have remained pretty much consistent. In 1994 I have 1,660; in 1995 I have 1,551; and in 1996 I have 1,624. If you look at the liquor possessions, you look at the illegal drug cases. The crimes of violence
Mr. EVERETT. Let me stop you there because our figures just aren't jibing. I show in 1990 that you had 5,217 assaults.
Mr. BAFFA. Okay, sir, 5,217, that's correct. But what I'm saying to you, last year when we implemented these new programs, that's what has caused the decrease. And do you have 1994, 1995 and 1996?
Mr. EVERETT. Yes, I do. Let me read my figures and the you tell me where I'm wrong.
Mr. BAFFA. Okay, sir.
Mr. EVERETT. In 1990 assaults/all, 5,217; 1991, 4,624; 1992, 4,181; 1993, 3,738; 1994, 3,399; 1995, 3,315; 1996, 3,205.
Mr. BAFFA. Yes, sir. I understand that, but I think I had told your Committee before, and if I hadn't I apologize, but some of the information contained on this and the preceding pages are of questionable accuracy. In 1989 the VA Office of Inspector General issued a report highly critical of the accuracy of the information contained in the VA's crime reporting system. During inspections conducted by the Office of Security and Law Enforcement since 1990, it was found that many facilities were overstating and some were understating crime statistics which were recorded manually.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. EVERETT. So, what you're telling me is that the VA's system of reporting these crimes is not accurate?
Mr. BAFFA. At that time it was not. It is accurate today.
Mr. EVERETT. That report was in 1989. Did the VA wait all these years to correct it?
Mr. BAFFA. No, sir, it did not. As soon as I came on and found that there was a deficiency, we went and got
Mr. EVERETT. You've been there 7 years?
Mr. BAFFA. Pardon me? Seven years.
Mr. EVERETT. I'm sorry. You said you've been there
Mr. BAFFA. Yes, sir, and I obtained funding and we do have a computer package now that is accurate.
Mr. EVERETT. Let's move a little past that because I want to give Mr. Clyburn some time too. Let me ask you a couple things on this. Will VA hospital police be subject to drug screenings such as urinalysis?
Mr. BAFFA. Sir, all VA police that are hired now are subject to random drug testing.
Mr. EVERETT. Urinalysis?
Mr. BAFFA. That's correct, sir.
Mr. EVERETT. How about previously-hired security officers?
Mr. BAFFA. It is my understanding that at some time during the summer the VA drug testing program which includes police officers will be implemented and they will be subject to drug testing. If during the course of business we have reason to believe a police officer is acting suspiciously, we can mandate that he be drug tested.
Mr. EVERETT. Let me get into this, and what we may do, Jim, with your permission, we may have two rounds here because I want to ask another question and I want to turn it over to you. Why does VA seem to be about the only federal department or agency that does its own police training? Everybody else that we can discover does it at the FBI or the Federal Law-Enforcement Training Center. Why can't the VA train there also?
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BAFFA. Yes, sir, that is a very good question and I'd like to expand upon that. I'm not sure that Justice does any training of federal police officers, but I could stand corrected on that. The VA police have duties beyond traditional law enforcement. They're also part of the patient care health team. I'm going to go on record as saying that I think what FLETC does, which is Glynco, does an outstanding job in training their police officers. They have an eight-point program in training and the sum of their training equals the parts of their training, and that training is broken down into many different facets one of which is firearms training.
Up until this date we have not had firearms training as a standard procedure. It is my feeling that when you expose our VA police, and you have to understand that at Glynco in these training classes which I believe are made up of 40 students per class in basic training or thereabouts, that only a small percentage of them would be VA police, four, five, six, maybe as little as one or two. They would go in there with the expectations of seeing other police officers trained in the use of weapons, and again, that's one part of the big equation and the expectation is when they return back to their station would not be there because we do not arm our police.
In addition, Title 38, Chapter 9, states that training, referring to police officers, will have emphasis on situations dealing with patients, patient health care. We're a unique team. Again, I'd like to give you an example of what I'm referring to instead of just words. Recently I took the Chief of Staff up to the Bronx to witness the pilot program and what we were doing. A gentleman came through the magnetometer carrying a knife, highly intoxicated, large man. Caused a lot of programs. If we can have the police officers trained in patient care, under most circumstances he probably would have been arrested. But the fact is, he is there at that hospital seeking treatment for what he was manifesting. As soon as he was subdued, and I don't mean physically, I mean just talked about giving his weapon away, he was put in a wheelchair and taken to the emergency room where he got treatment. They would not teach that at FLETC. You know, some would argue thatand it's not an argument. Again, I take that word back. Some would say, well, why don't you do like other law-enforcement agencies do, after the initial 8-week course then send them to the VA and train them for 3 weeks? I would do that and will entertain doing that if in fact some barriers are taken down, one being which the VA decides to arm all of its police officers because then the training would be congruent and conducive to having a second phase of training.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. EVERETT. Let me just close this round by saying that I don't know if you're familiar with the term ''Q Courses,'' which the military uses that very same option. They do primary training in a number of fields, helicopter training, fixed-wing training, etc., etc., and then they send people on to specialized training, and they've found that quite cost-effective. At this point let me turn it over to my friend the ranking member, Mr. Clyburn.
Mr. CLYBURN. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Let me begin, Mr. Chairman, by stating that in preparation for this hearing this morning the subcommittee staff contacted the American Hospital Association to try to understand the degree to which private-sector hospitals arm its law-enforcement and security personnel and the steps taken by private hospitals to decide whether it's necessary to arm its officers. In this regard, the AHA suggested we contact Mr. Fredrick Roll, a member of the American Society of Health-Care Engineering who has extensive expertise in the field. Scheduling conflicts precluded Mr. Roll from testifying in person before the subcommittee this morning. We are especially grateful to Mr. Roll, however, for agreeing to provide a letter and supplemental materials relating to work place violence and health-care security issues to be included in the record for today's hearing. Mr. Chairman, I move that Mr. Roll's correspondence and supplemental materials be included in the record of today's hearing.
Mr. EVERETT. Without objection, so ordered.
(See p. 92.)
Mr. CLYBURN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Baffa, the main thrust of Mr. Roll's concerns with arming law-enforcement personnel at VA facilities appears to be a belief that any decision to arm VA hospital officers should be based on a thorough case-by-case needs-based analysis of the individual VA facilities. In Mr. Roll's view, and I might add, in my view as well, a blanket plan to arm officers at each VA hospital would be ill-advised. Do you share Mr. Roll's concerns in this regard?
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BAFFA. Sir, I'm not going to comment on Mr. Roll's view point because I haven't seen anything he has to say, but I will comment on what your view point is, and I agree with you 100 percent. We are not out to mass arm everybody nationwide in the VA police. One of the reasons we developed a pilot program was to take five hospitals, five geographical areas, that had high crime rates and test the system out. It's an ongoing testing system. No decision has been made to blanketly arm all VA police nationwide. We're not ready for that, and I will be the first one to tell you we're not ready for that. That has never been my intention, that has never been the Secretary's intention. Again, it's called a pilot program because we're exploring possibilities. We've done the same thing with the K9 program. Not all VA hospitals have dogs, and it's a voluntary program. Each hospital that's participating in the pilot program volunteered to participate in the program because they just felt that they had needs and issues that only an armed police officer could handle. I have one of those directors right here who maybe would like to expand upon it if you'd like, sir. But to answer your question, I agree with you.
Mr. CLYBURN. Absolutely. Let me say this is the director of the Jackson facility.
Mr. BAFFA. That's correct. Yes, sir.
Mr. CLYBURN. You came to this conclusion by using a regional approach wherein there wereI'm assuming that you're saying that the areas around the medical centers are areas of high crime rates is what you're saying? Or did you mean high crime rates in the region?
Mr. BAFFA. Well, on all accounts that's correct, sir. When we started thinking about arming our police officers, I wanted to choose five hospitals geographically located across the country by region. I wanted to have five hospitals that I knew that the police force was where I thought it should be before we would commence or begin a pilot program. We also looked at the crime rate at those facilities. We don't determine the crime rate. The Federal Bureau of Investigation does that. What they do is, they have a statistical, and I don't have the formula with me, sir, that shows how many crimes are committed per 100,000 population and it comes with a figure.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I personally chose New York City as kind of like the base line, the border line, and their crime figure came as 7. All five facilities that we chose had a crime rate higher than the 7 as I articulated to you just a few seconds ago.
Mr. CLYBURN. Did all these places have incidents? I know about the incident at Jackson. I think you mentioned one that I'm familiar with in 1992 I saw in something here at the Columbia, SC facility.
Mr. BAFFA. That's correct. Yes, that was looked at also. They had incidents, and we have to rely on the local staff, i.e., the directors and what-have-you. I can come into any facility and make a recommendation, but you have to know the pulse of the facility and that's why we work with the local community as well as the police forces involved.
Mr. CLYBURN. I guess that's what I'm getting to here. You mentioned you selected facilities where the police forces were ready. What do you mean ready?
Mr. BAFFA. Well, you issued your concern. That was just one of the criteria. The criteria was that the local hospital director and staff wanted to participate, number one. We do a cyclical inspection. Every 3 to 4 years we check the hospitals and how they're operating their police force. Obviously, we have 169 hospitals, some are better than others. Of the people that volunteered, I picked what in my view point was the best facilities and best police officer management program in the nation because I want like you to succeed and I did not want to jump in and just randomly pick some people and arm them. I figure if we can make it work with the best of people, then we can look and give it to the Secretary to look beyond.
Mr. CLYBURN. I guess what I'm trying to get to here, if you're using as part of the criteria crime rates, incidents, a well-managed hospital, I guess my question is, what methods of evaluations did you use to determine the readiness levels at each of these facilities?
Mr. BAFFA. We do a series of program reviews. I send my people who are not affiliated with the hospital out to that hospital to review how the police are operating both administratively and technically. And that deals with everything, the proper training, they are doing their proper training they're required to do, they are rotating their shifts, everyone is getting the opportunity to perform the same duties on a 24-hour-a-day, per week basis, 24 hours a day, i.e., we change shifts every 3 or 4 months, we look at management's philosophy about the police, we talk to the local police community. After we have done that and it meets the first check point, makes the first cut, we then do physicals on all the police officers, we do psychological testing of all the police offices. We come back in and we give them a boiler plate standard operating procedure. We talk to the unions, we talk to the staff, and we talk to everybody, the veterans, the service organizations, everybody that's going to be involved. At that point and that point alone do I then give the blessing that that would be one of the pilot sites, and that all happens before we begin starting the training of our police officers.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CLYBURN. So, that was in preparation for this, but this is not standard operating procedure?
Mr. BAFFA. The cyclical visits to see if the hospitals are working is done every 3 to 4 years. In addition to that we do the other things. You're talking about the arming of the police officers. Correct?
Mr. CLYBURN. What I'm trying to determine is in your initial determination here you indicated that one of the criteria right at the top of your list was the readiness of the police officers.
Mr. BAFFA. Of the police officers.
Mr. CLYBURN. And I'm trying to determine how you got to that conclusion that this group is ready and that group is unready.
Mr. BAFFA. By all of the above, sir. By all of the above. I do that at each facility.
Mr. CLYBURN. Yes, and I ask is this standard operating procedure or is this something you did in preparation for being here this morning in arming your police officers? Is this something that you do? Now, you say you do it every 3 or 4 years, and all I'm saying to you, sir, is it seems to me, and I'm sorry, I'm one of the few guys who came to this Congress outside of the legislative process. I came here from management.
Mr. BAFFA. Yes, sir. Right.
Mr. CLYBURN. And so when it comes to administration and management you're going to find me a little bit different from a lot of people who are in elected office. And so what I'm trying to do is determine whether or not you got to this point this morning through standard operating procedure or whether or not you decide that this is where I want to get, let me go out and find some places that will get me there.
Mr. BAFFA. It is standard operating procedure for us to do cyclical inspections of the hospitals to see if they are operating in a satisfactory manner. Now, there's different levels of satisfactory. It is standard operating procedure for a police officer to go through a physical on an annual basis. It's standard operating procedure to do psychological testing on whether an individual could be a police officer on an annual basis. What I did to implement the pilot program is go above that and do all the things that I previously articulated to you to assure in my own mind that these police officers at this facility were ready to be armed which is a question that a lot of peoplehow do you know these police officers are qualified to be armed. Based on all the things I just articulated which is above and beyond what we do is how I made that determination. Yes, sir.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CLYBURN. How was the determination made to use in the future, whether it's near future or I don't know, but I understand that one of the facilities selected for the future is Hampton, VA.
Mr. BAFFA. That's correct. I did the same thing. I knew from previous experience and previous inspections as I referred to you that that police department was operating in a top-rate fashion that fulfilled my requirements of what I think a police department should be.
Mr. CLYBURN. They've never had any incidents?
Mr. BAFFA. No, sir. But you have to understand that what I wanted to do because it is a pilot, it was not something cast in stone, we have 169 hospitals in 169 different locations. We have some hospitals that are very large. We have some hospitals that are very small.
Mr. CLYBURN. Is this a very small hospital?
Mr. BAFFA. Yes, sir, it is.
Mr. CLYBURN. And I understand that the crime rate in and around this hospital is very low.
Mr. BAFFA. It depends on what your definition of low, sir, is. It's below the 7.
Mr. CLYBURN. All things are relative. It's relative to what you'd find in New York.
Mr. BAFFA. That's right. It is below the 7 of Manhattan.
Mr. CLYBURN. Right.
Mr. BAFFA. Yes, it is below the 7.
Mr. CLYBURN. Is it 5, 6, 8?
Mr. BAFFA. Sir, I'll have to get that information back to you. It's on the tip of my tongue. I don't have what the crime rate was there.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CLYBURN. Thank you. I guess once again what I'm asking, we're now walking through all this criteria that you've laid out here and I'm trying to see how Hampton, VA fits.
Mr. BAFFA. Okay. I chose Hampton, VA, and sir, I hope I don't confuse or muddy the waters any more. If you were to ask me places that I thought that we would have armed confrontation at our facilities, I would have never chosen Lake City, FL, and we had a police officer shot there. I would never have chosen Albuquerque, NM. We had a police officer killed there. I would never have chosen Brecksville, OH, which is a two-facility hospital, we have one in Wade Park which in down in the inner city where all the police officers aroundyou know it's a hospital complex, the vast majority of the police officers at facilities other than VA are armed. I would have thought that that would have been the place that the police officers would have been shot. They were not shot in Wade Park. They were shot out in the suburbs at Brecksville.
Mr. CLYBURN. Go right ahead. I just don't want to encroach upon my Chairman's time.
Mr. BAFFA. If I had a crystal ball, that's where I would put the armed police officers. Matter of fact, if I had a crystal ball I'd be at the Preakness Stakes Horse Raceyou can't determine that. The statistics will lie to you is what I'm saying.
Mr. CLYBURN. We understand that, and I think what our concern is is that we don't initiate some emotional reactions to things. None of us want to see any police officer shot, injured in any way. What we also do not wish is for us to in search of a remedy that would create greater harm. And I'm not too sure that we've not had these kinds of situations in Sunday school on Sunday mornings. I read of somebody being shot while sitting in Sunday school or something. Things like this happen. That's part of the problem we have in our society today, but we don't want to arm all the ushers in church to make sure no one gets shot on Sunday morning. And so we've got to be very careful. That's what I'm saying, that we have to be very measured in this, and I have two big problems, one expressed by the Chairman, and that is, those of us on the subcommittee, we want the best VA system that we can have and we are very concerned that if we are looked upon as having some entity out there separate and apart from everybody else doing its own thing, that can cause us some real problems here in this Congress and also with the public as well, to have your own training.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And as the Chairman has said, there are some things about being a police officer that are standard, and I don't see anything wrong with having that training standard and everybody having the same training in the same way by the same groups and having supplemental training for the hospitals. But to have everything over here and have some incident come up and have us coming in here and having people from Quantico or other places and come in here and say, well, that's not the way you do that, you're supposed to do it this way, this way and this way. And have somebody from the other academy telling us
Mr. BAFFA. Yes, sir.
Mr. CLYBURN. Do you see what I'm saying?
Mr. BAFFA. Sir, I agree with you 100 percent, and I want to tell you that all the concerns that you have articulated here in front of me and as the Chairman has done, I have the same concerns you do. I'm not talking about the training. I'll discuss the training. But everything you've discussed before the training, I agree with you 100 percent, and I know the Secretary agrees with you 100 percent. What we're trying to do, and remember, this is a pilot program. This is not cast in stone. It is a measured, I hate to use the term experiment, but if you want to use the term experiment, that we're trying to see if in fact this will provide a safer hospital community or VA community. It's not cast in stone. I have the same concerns. If anybody thinks that I think the answer to the question of crime on VA property is to arm everybody, that's not the issue. That's not where I'm coming from. That's not where the Secretary is coming from. It's a measured study that we're looking at. I am not saying I disagree with you so much on the core aspects, but what I do have a problem with is Congress and legislation telling me in Chapter 38, Title IX that training referring to VA police officers will have emphasis in situations dealing with patients. I agree with you that after the basic training course that you're talking about the core courses we could send our police officers to VA finishing school, for lack of better words. But my feeling is, and maybe my colleagues here from FLETC will disagree with me, and I will review it again. I looked at this issue in 1989 when I first came here. I thought it was a no-brainer. I came from an agency that trained at FLETC and I said, yeah, why not, and I wanted to look at it. Later it came to me that the functions that they perform are different than what the standard police officer performs on the street.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition to that, when you send somebody to a training academy, and you can talk of peer pressure and you say anything you want and you're teaching them one way of training which includes firearms which is a volatile issue. It's a volatile issue to this Committee; it's a very, very contentious issue with the police officers themselves. And you give them their basic training which includes firearm training or you omit the firearm training so you have 4 or more people who do not participate in police training, you graduate them, then what I would have to do I believe is send them to retread school. I would have to disengage some of the things they've learned and teach them the VA way.
I don't like the separatist status, what-have-you. If in fact we did arm the police officers, to me in total, the Secretary would make that decision, then to me that obstacle to include the training at FLETC would make FLETC very, very attractive to me and I would very, very highly consider it, and as I said, send my people after that to the finishing school. Poor choice of words, but what do they call the secondary? Follow-up finishing. Same thing.
Mr. CLYBURN. Follow-up?
Mr. BAFFA. Follow-up training at that perspective agency. I think FLETC does a great job. I totally agree with you.
Mr. CLYBURN. Let me yield to the Chair.
Mr. EVERETT. Thank you, Jim. At this point I'd like to introduce another member of our Subcommittee who also like myself and Jim does not come from a political background, and that's Dr. Snyder. Do you want to jump in here?
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. VIC SNYDER
Mr. SNYDER. Yes, thank you, Mr. Chairman. Being on the National Security Committee I have to choose between paying attention to the active side of the military when we have meetings at the same time or the veterans' side of it and what I end up learning about is the traffic patterns on Pennsylvania Avenue as I run back and forth between meetings. So, I apologize for not being here, although I looked over some of the statements that we were given earlier this morning and have some familiarity I think with what's going on. Just a couple of questions or comments. As having both at medical school in Portland, Oregon and then in my residency in Little Rock, I trained at VA's and my experience there is that in both those campuses as far as I was concerned and the civilian world was concerned, you couldn't tell when you slopped over from VA property onto State hospital grounds onto the medical campus that was run by the State.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In Little Rock I do ride along with a police officer sometimes and we had a little fender bender and the police officer had to spend time on the phone for about 15 minutes trying to determine was it State grounds, federal grounds or city-run streets. Those of us who roamed through those campuses, we have two or three law-enforcement folks that we run into. You run into your city folks, you have your State medical center police, and then you have the VA folks, and frankly, I didn't realize until the last 48 hours that the VA police were not armed, and I think there has to be a certain consistency there. I guess what I'm saying in a big way, I don't see much problem with you going ahead with your VA police carrying firearms because frankly I think that would have been the expectation at those campuses since you already have officers from the other facilities carrying weaponry. That's just a comment. Any comments you want to make would be appreciated.
The second point I wanted to make is, and now I am somewhat biased I think, Mr. Chairman, being a family practitioner who trained on those facilities, I think regardless of where the geography is where they're trained at, the facility is in North Little Rock I think, I think the treatment model needs to be part of the training from the get-go on these officers. For example, and you all I think have discussed one example, that of the inebriated fellow who comes through the door. But obviously if you see a naked guy on the street in downtown Washington, DC, your attitude toward him is going to be different than if you see a naked guy staggering out the front door of a VA hospital. I mean, hopefully we will approach those fellows differently, and I think that from the get-go you've got to have a different imprint in the minds of your hospital-oriented police officers, and I'll have to leave to your training experts whether that means unlearning some things that traditional police officers would learn. But I know that at the facility now, wherever it is, that they currently are actively using people from the VA hospital that come over and talk and they stage simulations of incidents that are going to occur in the hospital from the very beginning, and I'm sure that that's going to be a different type of training than if you're training people for 72 other agencies. But that's a lot of rambling. Any comments you might have on any of that I'd appreciate.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BAFFA. Sir, I'm very glad that you made those statements because that is exactly the philosophy I have. I think that people talk and statistics being given about unarmed percentages I think Mr. Clyburn gave me, in a lot of cases security guards aren't armed. But I will use Miami or Cleveland, they have a security guard force and they're supplemented by the Miami Police. In one case it's a substation of the Miami Police on the hospital grounds. We have to understand that the VA police are there as much for patient care as they are for law enforcement, and it's a different type of law enforcement.
You used an example, and I'd like to use another one, of my days in the Secret Service. If we're outside the White House and you saw somebody inebriated or naked, as you say, you had three choices. You could tell them to move on and hope that his family would take of him; you could arrest him for disorderly conduct; or you would send him to St. Elizabeth's. But most of those kinds of manifestations that happen on VA grounds are by veterans who are there for that very treatment and we combine law enforcement with the health-care community, and it has been my opinion but I will readdress it again, that if we send people down to a training academy first learning street police work for lack of better words, street police work, and we build up their expectations and we don't allow them to carry firearms or participate in firearms training, then I'm going to have a heck of a time when you bring them back to try to debrief them and get them into the health-care mode.
Mr. SNYDER. But by the same token, if we have any evidence that the training that you all are doing is not adequate to deal with a true street situationI mean for example, I know that there are sometimes nurses coming off work at hospital facilities are kind of preyed upon
Mr. BAFFA. Right.
Mr. SNYDER (continuing). By some bad actors out there.
Mr. BAFFA. Right.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SNYDER. Have we had any indication that the training you all are doing on your VA police has not been adequate to handle those kinds of situations, and if so that certainly is a dike that needs to be plugged.
Mr. BAFFA. Sir, when I first came to the VA we were inadequate because we were only giving them 64 hours training per year. We were absolutely, positively inadequate. We have developed a training course now which is 160 hours, and other than not being able to respond to a patient or an individual because we can't get close to them because we're being shot at, I know of no cases where we have not effectively responded to a situation.
I guess I'm going to tell you if I might have the liberty of one of the grievous cases that very, very concerns me totally when you talk about arming the officer or not arming the officer, what-have-you, and it happened a couple months ago in Dallas, Texas. And we had an ambulance driver, ambulance team, bring a patient in on a routine case for surgery on a Monday morning. This was Sunday might; it was Monday morning. After they dropped him off, an individual came on the grounds with a shotgun and burst into the emergency room. This ambulance driver was there, had nowhere to go. He was a male, his accomplice was a femalenot accomplice, his partner was a female, and this man was brandishing a shotgun. The VA police responded. They evacuated. As they tried to get near the guy or talk him out of it, I'm not going to use the language he used, put the gun to the female's head, ''If you get any closer I'm going to . . .''I'm not going to go any farther, but you can imagine what he said to her. They backed off and they called the police to respond. During that time he told the female ambulance attendant, ''Go out and get the ambulance and bring it here.'' The male ambulance attendant said, ''Let me do it.'' He said, ''I'll kill her.'' The male went out. At that time the guy let one round off in the hospital with the shotgun. Our police could not get any closer because every time they got closer he pointed the weapon at them.
To make a long story short, he kidnapped her before armed police could respond. He tortured her and raped her. Now, to me that is wrong and we should not allow that to happen. And I think that if we do this right, and Mr. Chairman and Mr. Clyburn, I want to do what you want to do and I want to do it right. I think we can prevent things like that from happening without endangering our veterans or our customers, and I fully believe that.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CLYBURN. If I may, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. EVERETT. Certainly. Go ahead, Jim.
Mr. CLYBURN. I've always had a real, real problem with making laws and rules and regulations based upon anecdotal stuff. That's a horrible situation, but you know, at the VA Hospital Center in Columbia the incidents like that were domestic. We've had a few of those. Now, I don't know if that was the 1992 instance you're talking about here, but were the husband and wife causing the problem?
Mr. BAFFA. No, that's another incident. The one in Columbia that I'm familiar with is when the niece called and said the patient had gotten the bus and was coming to kill the doctor because he didn't give him the right prescription that he was looking for. The bus stopped right in front of the hospital as you're familiar with.
Mr. CLYBURN. Right.
Mr. BAFFA. The VA police called the Columbiahave them help respond. Unfortunately, he was on the bus. He was literally on the bus. The VA police confronted him and a police officer was shot.
Mr. CLYBURN. Well, that's what I'm talking about. When the wife called why was not the Columbia Police Department called?
Mr. BAFFA. They were. They were busy and could not respond. They did respond. The Columbia Police Department did respond too late. That's not the fault of the Columbia Police Department. They had their police officers doing other things.
(See attached letter.)
Hon. TERRY EVERETT,
|Department of Veterans Affairs,|
|Deputy Assistant Secretary for Security and Law Enforcement,|
|Washington, DC, June 24, 1997.|
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, Committee on Veterans' Affairs,
House of Representatives, Washington, DC.
DEAR MR. CHAIRMAN: After reviewing the transcript of my testimony of May 22, 1997 during the hearing on Safety and Security. I realized that there was an error in my testimony relative to the events of the police officer that was shot in Columbia, South Carolina. I confused this incident with another shooting incident that occurred at one of our facilities in the South.
In my testimony, I stated to Congressman Clyburn that the City of Columbia Police Department was notified but they responded too late to avert the shooting. This was incorrect. The VA Police did not have time to call the Columbia Police Department as they had to rush to the main hospital entrance where the alleged subject was to arrive on the scheduled bus, as telephoned in by the suspect's niece a minute earlier.
The Columbia Police Department responded within a few minutes after they were notified of shooting. I am sorry for any inconvenience this error might have caused.
Mr. CLYBURN. I understand. I remember the incident and I did not believe, once again to deal with it anecdotally, that that incident although it's mentioned here, I think there was a much better response than the VA officer having a gun. Now, my mind is not made up about whether or not they ought to be armed. That's not my problem here.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BAFFA. I understand that, sir.
Mr. CLYBURN. My problem here has to do with training
Mr. BAFFA. Yes, sir.
Mr. CLYBURN (continuing). Has to do with recruitment.
Mr. BAFFA. Yes.
Mr. CLYBURN. It has to do with whether or not the officers that you have hired when you recruit them where they come from. Drug testing. Training. All of those things that ought to go into trying to determine whether or not this is the kind of person that ought to be a police officer.
Mr. BAFFA. I agree with you, sir.
Mr. CLYBURN. And then once the decision is made on this person, what kind of training this person will have before having this supplemental training I like to call it that would be required for the VA. Because let me tell you something. It may not be in your records, and you may not recall these incidents, but I know of more than one incident on a facility at the VA that had absolutely nothing to do with anybody that wanted to rape anybody, it had to do with a husband and wife that wanted to get rid of one another, and one of them happened to work at the VA hospital and the incident occurred.
Mr. BAFFA. Absolutely. Domestic disputes are horrible.
Mr. CLYBURN. That's right. Now, the problem here is that we all know that that's the worst kind of situation to be in with a gun.
Mr. BAFFA. Absolutely. Absolutely.
Mr. CLYBURN. I certainly know that. And there's a lot of that going on at the VA's. So, I want to be very, very careful and measured about this, and that's my real concern here. So, I certainly don't want us without any empirical data to get into this just because we've had some incidents, just because somebody's emotions are running high, just because we have a lot of handcuffs to throw around. I just am very careful.
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BAFFA. Sir, I agree with you and I would like to make one comment, and the Director of Jackson would like to say something. The decision to arm VA police officers was made well over a year ago and before any of these incidents, i.e., what happened in Albuquerque, NM, what happened in Jackson, MS occurred. That decision was made I believe a year and a half ago to begin the implementation of pilot test sites. So, it wasn't a knee-jerk reaction type situation. And I will say that, and I personally tell you that I agree as does the Secretary with all your concerns. I'd like to turn over one thing to Mr. Miller.
STATEMENT OF RICHARD MILLER
Mr. MILLER. Thank you, Mr. Baffa. I'm Dick Miller. I'm the Director of the G.V. ''Sonny'' Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson, MS, and I too, Mr. Clyburn, have the same concerns about arming VA police. And I can say that yes, there was some emotion involved in that, but we went through an awful lot of agony and looking at our organization, a lot of fact-finding before I asked Mr. Baffa to present our consideration to the Secretary for arming our police. We have 17 police officers presently at the Jackson, G.V. ''Sonny'' Montgomery VA Medical Center. Sixteen of those have prior police experience. Eleven of those have been with the VA for under 6 years. Sixteen of those have been at the VA for under 10 years. Combined they have 247 years and 2 months of police experience. Of that 247 years and 2 months, they have 67 years and 7 months in the VA. Our average experience of our police force is 14.5 years. They have all or will in addition to having that experience in recognized police organizations in the country, they will go or have gone through the now 5 weeks training at our police academy. One of the significant considerations was the quality of the police force at Jackson that helped me in changing my opinion about arming our police force in the hospital. A hospital is a place of healing. There's no doubt about that. But in some areas when the sanctity and the sanctuary of that has been violated as it has been, our staff and our community cry out for something.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CLYBURN. May I ask you a few questions about your police force? Tell me a little bit about how you hire those people.
Mr. MILLER. Ironically, sir, it started about 5 years ago, just a couple years after Mr. Baffa started to initiate a lot of changes. We had a police force that did not have very good, effective leadership. It was not very schooled, did not have a lot of experience, and it happened before I got there. I've been there just about 3 years. It will be 3 years this August. But the then chief operating officer, my associate director, had already started to initiate the change in the improvement. We started by being very fortunate in hiring a man that had extensive military experience, 22 years, as our police chief.
As I mentioned to you, we have 11 police officers that have less than 5 years' experience in the VA. We have 16 police officers that have less than 10 years' experience in the VA. So, with our searching for those experienced personnel and having those people that qualify but also came to us with tremendous experience, we were fortunate to select very talented, well-trained, formerly exposed to the academy police officers.
This is ironic, but since the terrible event February 19th of this year with the murder of Dr. Carter and the suicide of Mr. Bowles, a veteran, the number of applicants in the OPM area in Georgia has gone up. The type of quality that we are receiving has gone up. We've hired three police officers with experience from the City of Jackson. Quite frankly, they came to us I believe because of the unfortunate press we had about the questions we had of why weren't our police officers armed and the fact that I said that I was going to increase my police force by at least 50 percent. And I just talked to one of them the other day who had 14 years of police experience in the Jackson Police Department, and I chatted with him, asked him about his family. And he said, ''You know, Mr. Miller, I can't believe how wonderful a place this is and how caring the people are. And I'm so happy to be here because it's the first time in 12 years I feel good about coming to work.'' So, our mission is a healing mission, and that is what we're there for.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CLYBURN. But didn't he carry a gun when he was with the Jackson Police Department?
Mr. MILLER. Yes, he did. And every one of these people I'm talking about carried guns in some police force.
Mr. CLYBURN. That's maybe why he feels so good about coming to work.
Mr. MILLER. No, he's referring to what he was going through when he was on the streets.
Mr. CLYBURN. I'm just being a little bit facetious.
Mr. MILLER. Incidentally, I'm remiss in that I'm late in coming here and just presented the Committee with a statement and I'd like to have that included in the record if I could.
Mr. CLYBURN. Without objection.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Miller appears on p. 239.]
Mr. CLYBURN. Do you have drug tests and that kind of stuff for the police officers?
Mr. MILLER. The present system of drug testing that we have in the Veterans' Administration for our employees are for new hirees by random pulling of their social security number, and I'm remiss in remembering the date, but sometime this summer we will go to the random testing for all employees. So, it won't be just new hires. But our police officers go through an extensive physical once a year, and they also go through a psychological assessment and if that psychological assessment indicates concern for further psychological testing, that's done.
Mr. CLYBURN. Is that done annually?
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MILLER. Yes, sir.
Mr. CLYBURN. The psychological testing?
Mr. MILLER. Yes, sir.
Mr. EVERETT. In the previous question did I understand that it is for new hires but you would also include people on the force?
Mr. MILLER. Sir, right now all new hires are randomly tested.
Mr. EVERETT. How about out of the folks that have been there a while?
Mr. MILLER. Beginning this summer alland I don't know all the different categories, but the police officers are included in that category, will be subject to random drug testing. In addition with police, if the chief of police notices something unusual about that behavior pattern of that officer, he can mandate that that police officer be drug tested.
Mr. EVERETT. I'm going to ask you to notify this Committee when that happens, and notify this Committee in any event in 90 days.
Mr. MILLER. Yes, sir.
Mr. EVERETT. Mr. Miller, I recognize that you don't have a crystal ball and perhaps you've not talked to all hospital directors across the nation or done a survey, but if I asked you today to make an educated guess or an opinion, would you say that other directors are in favor of arming their police officers, the majority of them, or the majority of them would be in disfavor?
Mr. MILLER. I can speculate that those directors perhaps are at the same position I was prior to February 19th of this year and maybe would not do that. But I also feel very strongly that, again, it wasn't an emotional reaction. It was a very thorough, studied reaction. We talked to our complete medical staff, our nursing staff, other staff, members in the community, opinion leaders in the service organizations and in the community, and I lost a lot of sleepless nights debating. But I can tell you that one thing that continuously rings in my head is that staff physician looked at me and said, ''Mr. Miller, something may happen to us outside the walls and doors of this institution, but we have 120 physicians, the system has 26,000 physicians. The two most violent acts against physicians in our system in the last 5 years, and indeed in the last 3 years, happened at the Jackson VA Medical Center.'' We can't look anyone else in the face, I can't look at another wife and a 12-year-old and a 6-year-old child in the face and say I didn't do everything I possibly could to make the environment a sound and safe one. And I'm not foolish to think that guns are going to stop things like that. If somebody wants to do that, they're going to do it. But I think for the psychology of the organization that's been wounded gravely and will have a tough time going through this, that those steps are necessary at the Jackson VA Medical Center.
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. EVERETT. While I appreciate the position that you're in, the ranking member and I are both very sensitive though about this camel getting his nose under the tent, frankly.
Mr. MILLER. Right.
Mr. EVERETT. And these things have a way, and this is my third term. As Jim said earlier, we both come from nonpolitical backgrounds. I spent 30 years in the newspaper business and the business world before coming here, and I'm not sure that we can in the society we live in today have everybody walking around with guns to protect society. And I understand the heartbreak, I know some of it personally, that comes along with having to look a wife in the face and tell her or her loved one, the patient, and tell them what's happened. I understand we've got five test pilot programs underway right now with three others planned.
Mr. BAFFA. Sir, effective today we have six. We just started Hampton today. And I'm looking at with Jackson, they'll on line in a couple of weeks. That would be seven. And the Secretary has authorized me to look to do up to 10. The only decision I have made has been on those seven. I have not made a definite decision on the additional three at this time. I haven't had time, to be honest with you.
Mr. EVERETT. I would also request to you that if as you begin or make the decision to put any other facilities on line that this Committee be notified.
Mr. BAFFA. Absolutely. Yes.
Mr. EVERETT. In addition to that, I would like to know prior if a decision is made to expand this program, the pilot program, beyond its current confines.
Mr. BAFFA. Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
Mr. EVERETT. Let me get a couple quick questions and then if Jim doesn't have any more to answer we'll move on to a couple other things. The VA policy on the pilot programs says shooting incidents will be reported immediately.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BAFFA. Absolutely.
Mr. EVERETT. Who are they reported to and what does immediate mean?
Mr. BAFFA. Immediate means as soon as the situation is neutralized and everybody is safe, they are to pick up the phone and notify the local FBI, my office which has a 24-hour answering capability with an answering service. We have Mr. Harper who works for me and a duty agent assigned, rotating duty agent, and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs will be notified.
Mr. EVERETT. I would ask that in the immediate notification that this Subcommittee which has oversight in investigation be notified and given full details of any such occurrence and that we be put on the immediate notification list.
Mr. BAFFA. Yes, sir.
Mr. EVERETT. I want to ask. I recognize it's hypothetical and I don't like answering hypothetical questions myself, but nevertheless it is one I think like that we must bring forth. That is, what circumstances would it be proper for an armed VA police officer to kill a veteran in a VA hospital? And don't tell me that that's not a possibility because we all know that it is a possibility.
Mr. BAFFA. No, sir, I know it's a possibility. As I said, I have been in law enforcement for 27 years and unfortunately was involved in a shooting and it's not a pleasant site.
Mr. EVERETT. I understand. I have relatives that are in law enforcement too and I know exactly where you're coming from.
Mr. BAFFA. Mr. Chairman, I am going to answer that question. I'm not going to try to sluff it. I'm going to give you an answer. But the first thing I'd like to say is that our VA police officers, we've come a long way and I think we've got a good force and I know it's not always important what I think, but it's what you think, and I invite you to come out to our facilities at any time and look at them. Our VA police don't want to kill anybody, and I don't think there's a law-enforcement agency anywhere that wants to kill anybody.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. EVERETT. I would suggest to you that no law-enforcement officer would want to kill anybody.
Mr. BAFFA. That's correct.
Mr. EVERETT. Let me finish, please.
Mr. BAFFA. Sorry. Excuse me.
Mr. EVERETT. My question is very direct. Do you have criteria of when a VA armed officer would be allowed to kill a veteran in a VA hospital? And be as direct as you can.
Mr. BAFFA. All right, sir, I'll be very direct with you. Officer Hoerst Woods was a police officer and a veteran. I think it would have been proper for him to shoot at his assailant who was a veteran.
Mr. EVERETT. And anytime we shoot we assume that we're going to kill someone
Mr. BAFFA. That's correct. We shoot to neutralize.
Mr. EVERETT (continuing). And we should not shoot otherwise.
Mr. BAFFA. That's correct.
Mr. EVERETT. Jim, before we leave his do you have anything else you'd like to
Mr. CLYBURN. Yes, sir, I have two
Mr. EVERETT. Certainly. Go right ahead.
Mr. CLYBURN (continuing). Issues I'd like to cover. First of all, Mr. Chairman, due to last minute notice, the International Association of Fire Fighters has asked to submit testimony by Friday. They will discuss the status of fire departments at VA facilities. I ask you now to accept that their testimony be part of the hearing.
Mr. EVERETT. Without objection. So ordered.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
[The testimony of the International Association of Fire Fighters was not received by the subcommittee.]
Mr. CLYBURN. Also Mr. Chairman, we had this information submitted to us. There are some things in here that I think may be of assistance to us with this hearing here today. I ask that this document be made a part of the record.
Mr. EVERETT. And that is a document from the Department of Veterans Affairs?
Mr. CLYBURN. Yes, sir. It's in the record.
Mr. EVERETT. It's in the record now? Yes.
(See p. 92.)
Mr. CLYBURN. Thank you. Let me ask if I may about the incidents. When you have a pilot project you're trying to gather information and that information is to be used for the purpose of establishing first of all whether or not you're going to go forward with a broad application of this and if so how you're going to do it. I'm a little bit concerned as to how will you determine whether or not this pilot has been a successful pilot and the conditions that you will find which will determine whether or not you go with a measured program, that is, a center-by-center program, or a program for all of the centers. Have you all developed an instrument that we could have or that we would know would assist us in being a little more intelligent about what it is you're doing?
Mr. BAFFA. Absolutely, sir. We're in the process of developing the criteria used to be made in the evaluation. It will include at this present time but not limited to the amount of activity, i.e., more police stops, more proactive law enforcement being accomplished. We will talk to the service organizations at the facilities. We will talk to the veterans at the facilities. We will talk to the local communities, the local police. We will talk to the staff. And we will then document all incidents as you articulated. We will compile that. We will meet with Dr. Kaiser and the Secretary, give him the information now that you've asked, we will give you the information, and that's how we will make the determination.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CLYBURN. When you're saying incidents, let's just suppose that during this time frame, I don't know what the time frame is.
Mr. BAFFA. Sir, initially it was going to be a year which would have ended October 1, but inasmuch as we've added five facilities, I'm going to ask the Secretary if we could extend it to February.
Mr. CLYBURN. February 1998?
Mr. BAFFA. Yes, sir.
Mr. CLYBURN. And then at the end of that period you're going to do some kind of evaluation of all those. Let's just suppose no incidents occur during that period. I would say that by most methods we use to measure things, we say, hey, outstanding program, exactly what we intended to achieve, no incidents, the thing is working, let's do it everywhere. Now, the problem with that is 5 years ago there may have been a period of 12, 18 months where no incidents occurred. So, tell me which one was successful, that period of time with no guns, or a period of time with guns?
Mr. BAFFA. Sir, that's an excellent question, and I think that I agree with you. If we went in with this preconceived notion of what we wanted to do as far as arm all the police officers you articulated, you would be absolutely correct and it would be valid for you to come back and say, well, what about 5 years ago when you didn't. That's not how we're looking at this. My goal is to protect the veteran the best way possible, and I assume you that before we make the evaluation we will give you all the information and give you the criteria and you being on the Oversight Committee, I'm sure you'll want to look into the criteria and have questions about it. This is an open, honest attempt. There's nothing under the blanket here. I'm not going to tell you that, yes, I think I would like to arm the police officers. But I do not believe, have never believed, that I want to go out en masse and arm police officers. I'm looking at this like I've looked at everything else as an action that needs to be taken and looked at.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I'll tell you, sir, when we developed the K9 program and started putting dogs on campus, people accused me of being a brown-shirted Nazi because we were introducing dogs on campus. They had visions of Alabama and Birmingham. Our dogs aren't like that. They're passive-aggressive dogs. The problem we have now is the veterans want to feed the dogs and take care of them and keep them from doing their business. So, we have no preconceived notions of this, sir. I don't know if I'm under oath or not, but I am telling you we have no preconceived notions and we will allow this Committee to look at what our criteria is and how we made the decision.
Mr. CLYBURN. Do you have K9's at every facility?
Mr. BAFFA. No, sir. It's an optional program.
Mr. CLYBURN. So, that was something left up to each director
Mr. BAFFA. That's correct.
Mr. CLYBURN (continuing). As to whether or not he or she wanted K9's?
Mr. BAFFA. That's correct.
Mr. CLYBURN. And the purpose of the K9's, of making that option, what were the purposes?
Mr. BAFFA. You mean why did we leave it an option?
Mr. CLYBURN. Yes. Why did you even introduce it?
Mr. BAFFA. Well, for two reasons. I'm a firm believer, and as I go back to before, it doesn't do me any good to shoot somebody after they've already shot somebody else: I mean, I've shot the person who shot somebody. What we want to do is have preventive law enforcement.
Mr. CLYBURN. That's what I'm asking. So, the K9's are part of some kind of prevention program.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BAFFA. Preventive.
Mr. CLYBURN. They're not sniffing in lockers to see whether there
Mr. BAFFA. Excuse me, sir. Their primary functions are, number one, missing patient searches. We have a lot of campuses that are very large.
Mr. CLYBURN. True.
Mr. BAFFA. A dog is very effective in that.
Mr. CLYBURN. Right.
Mr. BAFFA. The second function is drug interdiction. Illegal drug interdiction.
Mr. CLYBURN. Right.
Mr. BAFFA. Those are the two primary functions of dogs on VA campuses.
Mr. CLYBURN. Well, that's what I was trying to get to.
Mr. BAFFA. Yes, sir. I'm sorry. I didn't understand the question.
Mr. CLYBURN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. EVERETT. Thank you, Jim. Let me ask this one final question. As you know, the Veterans' Benefits Administration is co-locating some regional offices in VA medical center campuses. Am I correct in understanding that the co-located regional offices are contracting for their own security when the VA hospital police are already providing security on the same campus?
Mr. BAFFA. You're partially correct, sir. What has happened is that we had some facilities that were contracting out their services. They found out it wasn't working properly and they're now being monitored by VA police. There are two other facilities that I became aware that that was an upcoming issue that they were planning to do that. It was last November I became aware of that. I sent a document to General Counsel for some clarification on the legalities of that. I have not gotten a final response. I have Mr. Hall from General Counsel. And it is my belief that that whole issue has been resolved and is being resolved and that it's a co-located facility. We are one VA and that facility will be secured by VA police to the best of my knowledge at this date.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. EVERETT. And you're telling this Committee that the VA security people will at some point assume all the responsibility for all of VA?
Mr. BAFFA. That is correct, sir, and if anything changes on that I will notify the Committee.
Mr. EVERETT. I appreciate it because I'll be honest with you, I don't know if this is a turf battle or what, but this member has had about all the turf battles he can put up with during the last 4 years.
Mr. BAFFA. I agree with you, sir.
Mr. EVERETT. Let me move on quickly towe will submit some other questions, by the way. We're very interested in the cemetery situation, the security there, and because of the length of this hearing and we still have panels to go to, we will submit some more questions for record concerning that. Mr. Ogden, if I may, in 1992 the VA's Inspector General made several recommendations for improving security at VA hospital pharmacies. Please briefly describe his recommendations and what you've done to implement them.
Mr. OGDEN. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, and I'd be happy to do that. In our testimony we elaborated on the issues that the Inspector General and the General Accounting Office and this Subcommittee identified in that time period, and the testimony I think articulates what we've done. What I would like to do is just summarize and say that the VA program today regarding, specifically, controlled substances and, less so but just as significant, noncontrolled substances, is certainly changedit's a different world in 1997 than it was in 1991, and I think you'll see that what we said we were going to do we have done to the greatest extent possible. Some of the issues haven't been totally resolved because some of them are software driven, but I think we have procedures, policies, etc., concerning controlled substances accountability that are very stringent. Some of them are onerous to the staff, but I think you'll see by looking at the Inspector General cases that have occurred in the last few years that no significant volumes of controlled substances have been diverted, and we're confident that as we change the VA health-care system and move from a hospital-based emphasis to community-based clinics, etc., etc., that we will reassess our system and continue to address these very important issues.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. EVERETT. Let me ask you, where do stolen VA drugs typically wind up, say from any particular institution? Does it stay in that community?
Mr. OGDEN. Well, I can just give you my opinion, maybe Mr. Baffa might give you his opinion. My opinion would be that probably both. It depends, if the stolen property is for personal use or for family members, or if it was large scale it would probably be for resale on the street.
Mr. EVERETT. Do you concur?
Mr. BAFFA. Yes, sir, and I will note that since the last hearing on drugs which I believe was 1992, we have not had a successful break-in burglary of any VA pharmacy. Any drugs that have gone array have been through diversion.
Mr. EVERETT. Is the problem generally inside though and not break-in's? Inside the VA itself?
Mr. OGDEN. You mean the problems of missing drugs probably has been, yes, sir.
Mr. EVERETT. How about security of prescription pads?
Mr. OGDEN. Well, I think the prescription pad issue is always going to be with us just like it's with society in the health-care system at large. We have modified the VA prescription form twice since 19911992. And in addition to that, we also have encouraged other alternative method of writing prescriptions to include electronic prescriptions as well as prescriptions specifically as written on computer forms that come out of our DHCP health-care system.
Mr. EVERETT. I appreciate the indulgence of this panel. We will have additional questions on a number of issues that we've discussed here today, and at this point I want to thank you again for showing up and we will now move to the next panel.
Mr. BAFFA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. EVERETT. Mr. Baffa, I realize that the VA's pilot program has essentially an evolving process. You've heard our concerns about arming hospital police, the department's undertaking an experiment and allowing the use of lethal force at its hospitals as a deterrent. Constant vigilance, close supervision by the VA during this pilot project is an absolute necessity. This Committee wants to be notified of any shooting incident as we mentioned immediately. Also please provide for our review your 6-month and 12-month evaluation of your pilot facts.
And with that we do welcome the next Committee, Mr. Joseph Wolfinger, the Assistant Director of Training Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and if you would please introduce your fellow panel members.
STATEMENT OF JOSEPH WOLFINGER, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF THE TRAINING DIVISION, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION; STATEMENT OF CHARLES F. RINKEVICH, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL LAW ENFORCEMENT TRAINING CENTER, DEPARTMENT OF TREASURY
STATEMENT OF JOSEPH WOLFINGER
Mr. WOLFINGER. Well, my name is Joe Wolfinger. I'm the Assistant Director in Charge of Training for the FBI, and Charlie Rinkevich who is the Director of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center at Glynco, GA, is with me.
Mr. EVERETT. If you will, Mr. Wolfinger, proceed with your testimony and if you would limit it to 5 minutes, we'll put your complete testimony into the record.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. WOLFINGER. Certainly. Good morning Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. I understand that I am here today to provide this Committee with information about FBI training, and specifically our firearms training program. The FBI's new agents training program is a 16-week course of instruction focusing in four core areas: academics, physical training, practical application, and firearms training. This equates to approximately 654 hours of instruction of which firearms training accounts for approximately 116 hours divided into 28 sessions. I think it is important to note that in general the mission of Special Agents of the FBI is different than that of a federal police officer and therefore our training is different. Agents are generally not first responders, nor do they routinely patrol. Likewise, our basic qualifications and selection process are different from other law-enforcement organizations.
A Special Agent's training does not stop at the conclusion of new agent's training. After reporting to their first office of assignment, a Special Agent begins a 2-year probationary period during which the new Special Agent receives on-the-job training from Senior Special Agents. During this period the new Special Agent is expected to perform specific functions of his or her job to include testifying, writing affidavits and so on, and is evaluated on performance. If for any reason the probationary Agent is dismissed, there is no appeal. Additionally, all Special Agents are required to qualify four times a year with their issued weapons and the weapons they have subsequently been authorized to carry.
I would also like to clarify that the FBI does not certify or approve of the organization's instructions to include firearms training. We have in the past offered and provided FBI instructor training to personnel from other organizations. Having said that, I'd like to provide you with an overview of the new agent firearms training curriculum.
The primary mission of the firearms training unit is to train new Agents to become safe and competent shooters with Bureau-issued handguns, shotguns and carbines through a 16-week, three-tiered training program consisting of fundamental marksmanship training with all three weapons systems, combat survival shooting incorporating all three weapons systems on progressively complex and challenging courses, and judgmental shooting.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The firearms training unit at Quantico also administers firearms-related training programs for Agents assigned to FBI headquarters, the Bureau's 56 field offices, and the law-enforcement community.
During firearms training students will fire a total of 4,395 rounds. Nearly 3,000 rounds will be fired during the course of 19 sessions as students master basic marksmanship skills and qualify for the first of two required times with a shotgun, handgun and carbine. During the remaining nine sessions students will fire approximately 1,400 rounds as their skills are challenged during combat survival training in their preparations for final qualification.
The combat survival portion of the firearms curriculum includes judgmental training along with combat courses which include no shoot targets and other courses where students must work as teams to resolve complex shooting problems. Students are exposed to at least 12 computer-driven scenarios with which they must interact and if appropriate employ deadly force. Unsafe, unprofessional or inappropriate behavior during these scenarios or at any other time during firearms training may result in a recommendation for a new agent review board or outright dismissal.
Student performance is assessed constantly during firearms training. When appropriate, students are given individualized instruction. If a student should fail to qualify, they are given 2 weeks of intensive remedial training after which they are afforded another opportunity to qualify. Failure at this juncture would result in dismissal from training. I'm very proud to note that the Training Division of the FBI has not lost a student because of a firearms-related failure since 1990.
In addition to successful completion of the initial firearms training, all Agents are required to attend firearms training and qualify four times a year throughout their careers. A minimum of 1,000 rounds is budgeted for each Agent for this purpose during each year to ensure that our Agents maintain this critical but perishable skill.
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Agents who fail to satisfy minimum requirements lose their authority to carry firearms until the deficiency is resolved and the risk of availability pay should that deficiency persist. Because the loss of pay is such a strong incentive, this has not been an issue.
As I said earlier, the new Agent firearms training curriculum consists of 116 hours of classroom and range instruction broken down into 28 sessions. These sessions are very much interrelated and complement training conducted by physical training, practical applications and our legal instructions unit. Our firearms training is multi-dimensional. It is concerned not only with an Agent's accuracy and proficiency with weapons, but also focuses on the relationship inherent to having the power and authority of applying deadly force. It is an intense, integrated training program focusing on awareness, judgment and skill.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Wolfinger appears on p. 44.]
Mr. EVERETT. Thank you, Mr. Wolfinger. Mr. Rinkevich.
STATEMENT OF CHARLES RINKEVICH
Mr. RINKEVICH. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee. It's a pleasure for me to be here to discuss with you the operations of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. As you know, the FBI is a Bureau of the Department of Justice, but the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center is a Bureau of the United States Department of the Treasury. Conceived as part of the great urban and police reforms of the 1960's, the FLETC opened its doors in 1970. Its headquarters have been housed since 1975 on a 1,500-acre former Navy training base located just outside the city of Brunswick, GA, on Georgia's southeast coast, at Glynco, GA. The FLETC also operates two satellite training facilities, an owned facility at Artesia, NM, and recently opened a licensed temporary facility at Charleston, SC.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Born from the need to provide federal law enforcement with consistent, high-quality training and nurtured through its infancy by a combination of interagency cooperation and support, the FLETC has matured into the largest, most cost-efficient center for law-enforcement training in the nation. Center facilities at Glynco include a modern cafeteria, regular and special-purpose classrooms, dormitories capable of housing more than 1,200 students, office and warehouse space, and state-of-the-art specialized training facilities for physical, driver/marine and firearms training. Our Artesia site has much the same facilities but on a much smaller scale.
The FLETC's mission is to conduct basic and advanced training for the majority of federal government's law-enforcement personnel. We also provide training for State, local and international law-enforcement personnel particularly in specialized areas and support the training provided by our participating agencies that are specific to their needs. The Department of Treasury has been the lead agency for this facility and provides the day-to-day administrative oversight and direction to FLETC since its creation.
Using a multidisciplined faculty that includes criminal investigators, lawyers, auditors, researches, education specialists, police and physical security personnel, the center provides entry-level programs in basic law enforcement for police officers and criminal investigators along with advanced training programs in areas such as marine law enforcement, antiterrorism, financial and computer fraud, and white-collar crime. Currently, 70 federal agencies participate in more than 200 different programs at the center.
Both the center and its work load have grown tremendously over the years as more agencies have come to realize the many benefits of consolidated training. In 1975 when FLETC relocated from Washington, DC, a staff of 39 employees moved with the center. Today the FLETC has an authorized staff of 512 permanent employees. Additionally, there are more than 150 personnel detailed to the center from its participating organizations. Several of the center's participating organizations also maintain offices at Glynco with a total staff complement of over 600 employees, and employees of the center's facility's support contractors total more than 700.
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Training is conducted at either the main training center in Glynco, GA, our satellite training center in Artesia, NM, or the temporary facility I mentioned at Charleston. The temporary training center at Charleston was established in 1996 to accommodate an unprecedented increase in the demand for basic training, particularly by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Boarder Patrol. In addition to the training conducted on-site at one of FLETC's residential facilities, some advanced training, particularly that for State, local and international law enforcement, is exported to regional sites to make it more convenient and/or cost-efficient for our customers.
Over the years the center has become known as an organization that provides high-quality and cost-efficient training with a can-do attitude and state-of-the-art programs and facilities. During my association with the center I've seen first hand the many advantages of consolidated training for federal law-enforcement personnel, not the least of which is an enormous cost savings to the government. Consolidated training avoids the duplication of overhead costs that would be incurred by the operation of multiple-agency training sites. Furthermore, we estimate that consolidated training will save the government over $180 million in per diem costs alone during 1998. That estimate is based on our projected 1998 work load and the per diem rates in Washington and other major cities of $152 a day versus the cost of housing, feeding and agency miscellaneous per diem at Glynco of slightly more than $25 a day. Consolidation also ensures consistent high-quality training and fosters interagency cooperation and camaraderie. Students from the different agencies co-mingle, thus learning about each other and each other's professional responsibilities. These networks establish at the center last throughout their careers.
We view FLETC and consolidated training as a National Performance Review concept ahead of its time. Quality, standardized, cost-effective training at state-of-the-art facilities, interagency cooperation and networking are indisputable results of consolidation. The Administration and Congress can be proud of the quality of training being produced at the center and the cost savings realized.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC FLETC is essentially a voluntary association with each agency's participation governed by a memorandum of understanding and bolstered by the commitment of the participating agencies, the Department of Treasury and the Congress. Particularly in these times of several budget constraints, a single agency cannot afford the sophisticated facilities and staff which are required for state-of-the-art training necessary to adequately prepare our nation's law-enforcement personnel. Only by consolidation at a centralized location are programs and facilities like those at FLETC economically feasible. We estimate that it would cost in excess of $175 million just to duplicate the facilities available at Glynco.
Mr. Chairman, in closing I'd like to emphasize that the Department of Treasury and the FLETC management are strongly committed to providing high-quality training at the lowest possible cost. Substantial savings are being realized by the government through the operation of our facility. And now I'm available to answer any questions you may have. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Rinkevich appears on p. 54.]
Mr. EVERETT. Thank you very much, gentlemen. Mr. Wolfinger, in your oral testimony it indicates that the FBI does not certify or approve other organizations' instructions including firearms training. Has the FBI ever actually observed VA's firearms training or instruction?
Mr. WOLFINGER. Last year there was some dialogue between our firearms training unit and the VA over their training and we consulted with them and looked over their outlines and materials. I do not believe that there was any actual on-the-scene observation of their training.
Mr. EVERETT. If asked, would you make an observation?
Mr. WOLFINGER. We certainly have tried to work with the other federal agencies and local agencies over law-enforcement issues. Certainly. We'd be happy to work with them. We really should not be put in a position though of certifying it or approving it. The firearms training really should be dependent on the nature of the job that the officer is asked to do, and our job is considerably different than the uniformed police officer in the VA.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. EVERETT. Do you know if any other federal law-enforcement entity that conducts firearms training?
Mr. WOLFINGER. We do, I know that FLETC does. Congressman, we have uniformed police at the academy and we send them to FLETC, to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, in Glynco for their initial training because the nature of being a uniformed police type person in the FBI is different than being an FBI agent.
Mr. EVERETT. I assume your answer is then that you do not know of any other government agency.
Mr. WOLFINGER. No. I'm sorry.
Mr. EVERETT. Mr. Rinkevich, I would like to highlight actually some of your testimony that you've given and then I'll follow it with a question. You point out that yours is the largest, most cost-efficient center for law-enforcement training in the nation; that currently 70 federal agencies participate in more than 200 different programs at the center; that consolidated training avoids duplication and overhead costs that would be incurred by operating multiple agencies at different training sites; and that it is estimated that the government would save almost $110 million in per diem costs in fiscal year 1998. And you point out that a single agency cannot afford the sophisticated facilities and staff which are required for the state-of-the-art training necessary to adequately prepare our nation's law-enforcement personnel. You also point out it would cost approximately $175 million to duplicate what you've got there. My question is, could the FLETC offer VA specialized training that they have testified here today that they need.
Mr. RINKEVICH. Mr. Chairman, are you referring to the kind of training that is peculiar to the Veterans' Administration police?
Mr. EVERETT. Yes.
Mr. RINKEVICH. It is a common method of operation at our center at FLETC to accommodate that kind of agency-specific training. If I could take just a minute and explain to you, the program that the FBI police participate in is our 8-week basic police training program. In addition to the FBI police we have the uniformed division of the Secret Service, we have the United States Capitol Police. Your own police force here participates in that program. The Defense Protective Force, those folks that protect the uniformed folks that protect the Pentagon. The folks that protect the CIA and the National Security Agency. They all participate in that program.
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The way the center works is that we provide the basic training skills that any of those police officers need to have in order to perform the duties of a uniformed police officer. It is then up to each individual agency to take those students after we've given them the basic skills, if you will, the undergraduate work, and give them the agency-specific skills and knowledge that they need to have, and most agencies do that. It takes a special training session for the Capitol Police for example to understand the particular laws and the way in which they perform their functions at the United States Capitol.
The uniformed division of the Secret Service does a special follow-on agency-specific training to deal with the specific mission, the specific authority, the specific policies of the uniform division. So, the answer to your question is yes. The system is designed that way, and it is used that way by most of the agencies; basic training by the center at Glynco and that agency-specific training by the agency instructors perhaps with assistance from our own instructions, but nonetheless agency-specific training.
Mr. EVERETT. Well, thank you very much, and I want to thank you gentlemen for your testimony here today, and at this point we'll call the next panel. I'm sorry. I did not recognize that Dr. Snyder had returned to the room. I was kind of listening to the testimony, and I do apologize, Dr. Snyder.
Mr. SNYDER. Well, I've been sneaking in and out, Mr. Chairman, running back and forth. I appreciate your
Mr. EVERETT. And I did not mean to dismissyou'll get an opportunity.
Mr. SNYDER. Just really one question, Mr. Rinkevich. I'm a big fan of well-trained law enforcement and I think that that's been lacking in our nation. I think most of us have figured out that that has been a gap, and frankly I think one of the reasons that crime rates have come down is States and local communities have really put a lot of money into good training for police officers. So, if you ever need any help from anything I can do for you, I would be a fan of that.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But I do want to quibble at little bit about your fairly broad statement about consolidation, and if I can, just the only question I want to ask, on page 2 of your statement you say, ''Using a multidisciplined faculty that includes criminal investigators, lawyers, auditors, researchers, education specialists, police and physical security professionals,'' you provide entry-level and basic law enforcement. But there's nobody in there remotely related to medical, and probably some of the most painful episodes for communities is when law enforcement ends up killing a schizophrenic. Very difficult situations. Or somebody who's on drugs and when they're dried out they're just fine. I mean, you know those terrible things that you all try to prepare people for. But isn't it a fair statement to say if I'm the VA people trying to make a decision about where to get my training and I read materials like this that doesn't even mention the word medical, is it not reasonable for them to think since we want our folks to be focused on our patients and the folks roaming through the campus there and the patients that come and go and the drugs addicts that will show back up in the middle of the night saying I need back in that, I mean, wouldn't this be a little bit of a flare for them when you all don't put any emphasis on medical? Now, I know that you provide medical training. I mean, I bet you do. I'd be shocked if you didn't. But this certainly tells me that your focus is not on it at all.
Mr. RINKEVICH. Well, it's quite true, Mr. Snyder, that we don't have a focus in the sort of specific area that the Veterans' Administration police would need it on dealing with the law-enforcement responsibility in a medical environment, and the reason for that is we don't train any police that guard medical facilities or are responsible for medical facilities.
Our system is designed so that our campus houses the agency personnel from the agencies that we train so that they can then take the student after they've been given the basic skills and give them what they need to know to be a Secret Service Agent or an FBI police officer. The Veterans' Administration could house at our campus its personnel that would be needed in order to provide that agency-specific training, and if they needed medical personnel or other folks that were imbued with the culture of the Veterans' Administration and a hospital system, that would be the way in which to accomplish it.
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We of course do provide medical training. We have extensive training in trauma management. We have extensive training in dealing with behavioral issues, disoriented people and mental cases and that sort of thing because other police officers confront those things on a regular basis on the street as well.
Mr. SNYDER. Right. And I knew you did, but I'm just saying you chose not to focus on that in your statement here. With regard to your comment about they could house those personnel, but the situation now is they get on the phone and say Dr. Jones, are you free tomorrow afternoon? We've changed our schedule. Dr. Jones is a psychiatrist who's workingI just made up Dr. Jonescan you stroll over here this afternoon? We need to change the date of that simulation. We need our schizophrenia lecture moved up. I mean, they're using medical people from a VA facility. It's right on the same grounds, it's on the back half of the campus, and I mean, they think they've got a pretty nice situation right now. They can pull their nurses and do simulations and not having to fly in faculty and house them somewhere. They see that as part of their responsibility as a VA employee. But anyway, I appreciate your comments and I know everybody here is trying to do a good-faith job of good training in law enforcement in the most cost-effective way. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. RINKEVICH. If I could, Mr. Chairman, just one quick comment, Mr. Snyder, and that is that our other agencies confront that same inconvenience. In other words, when the Secret Service needs to have someone come in that is posted here in headquarters in Washington, DC because of a special skill area, they make arrangements for that. So, it does work. You're right, it's much more convenient if it's right across the street on the same campus, but it is possible for those arrangements to be made.
Mr. EVERETT. Thank you, Dr. Snyder, and my apologies once again. I might point out to this panel and the other panel that all members of this Committee with the exception of our ranking member are members of the National Security Committee also. And you can appreciate the fact that the Chairman himself would probably be going back and forth if he were not Chairman. So, thank you for rejoining us, and we all recognize the fact that QDR is one of the most important things that we're doing this year as far as national security is concerned and that's the reason that the members are there.
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Again, I thank this Committee and I now call the next Committee. Mr. John Vitikacs of the American Legion, and Mrs. Barbara Zicafoose of the Nurses Organization of Veterans' Affairs, Mr. Ernest Little, a fire fighter at Perry Point, Maryland, Veterans' Affairs Medical Center, who will be representing AFGE. And I'll point out the National Association of Government Employees will also submit a statement for the record.
[The statement of National Association of Government Employees appears on p. 90.]
Mr. EVERETT. We have tons of paper up here and I'm trying to get them all together. And at this point I'd recognize John Vitikacs to go ahead and if you will make your statement. Again, I ask all panel members to keep statements at 5 minutes, and your complete statements will be made a part of the record. Thank you.
STATEMENTS OF JOHN VITIKACS, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, NATIONAL VETERANS AFFAIRS AND REHABILITATION COMMISSION, AMERICAN LEGION; BARBARA FRANGO ZICAFOOSE, MSN, RNCS, ANP, LEGISLATIVE CO-CHAIR, NURSES ORGANIZATION OF VETERANS AFFAIRS; ERNEST W. LITTLE, FIREFIGHTER, PERRY POINT VETERANS AFFAIRS MEDICAL CENTER; ACCOMPANIED BY SANDRA CHOATE, ASSISTANT GENERAL COUNSEL, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES
STATEMENT OF JOHN VITIKACS
Mr. VITIKACS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Dr. Snyder, members of the subcommittee. Thank you for inviting the American Legion to testify on safety concerns within the Department of Veterans Affairs. I will limit my remarks to the issue of arming VA security officers.
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC First of all, I would like to commend Mr. John Baffa and Mr. Bill Harper for the professionalism, competence and expertise they have provided the VA Security Service over the past several years.
Mr. Chairman, over the past 13 years the American Legion testified on two previous occasions concerning arming VA security officers. On both occasions for a combination of reasons the American Legion did not support armed VA security officers. Today the American Legion is more flexible on this matter. As stated in our prepared testimony, the American Legion supports completing the VA Security Service pilot program on arming security officers and fully evaluating the program prior to deciding the future of this important subject.
Mr. Chairman, the world today is a much more dangerous place than it was 13 years ago. Crime in the inner cities has increased, and that is where a majority of VA medical centers are located. There is strong testimony on the pros and cons of arming VA security officers. However, adequate documentation on the objectiveness of each position is absent. The pilot program currently underway can help answer many questions.
The American Legion believes that training, supervision and quality of individuals recruited by VA Security Service has improved in recent years. This is due to competent leadership and improved pay and performance standards. Mr. Chairman, there are many factors to consider in the ultimate recommendation VA makes on arming security officers.
In the final analysis, VA medical centers and regional offices must be safe and secure for patients, staff and visitors. Recent tragic events throughout the country and within VA have left all of us shocked and uncertain about our own safety and security. It is with this conviction that the American Legion looks forward to reviewing the results of the pilot program now underway prior to developing an official position on this issue. Mr. Chairman, that completes my statement.
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [The prepared statement of Mr. Vitikacs appears on p. 57.]
Mr. EVERETT. Thank you very much. I will now recognize Ms. Zicafoose for your statement.
STATEMENT OF BARBARA ZICAFOOSE
Ms. ZICAFOOSE. Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, I am Barbara Zicafoose, a nurse practitioner in the Center for Outpatient Services at the Veterans' Affairs Medical Center in Salem, VA. As Legislative Co-Chair for the Nurses' Organization of Veterans' Affairs, I am pleased to present testimony on safety and security in the Department of Veterans Affairs on behalf of NOVA. I speak for our own membership and for the more than 40,000 professional nurses employed by the DVA.
NOVA is a professional organization whose mission is shaping and influencing the professional nursing practice within the DVA health-care system. We are very much interested in assuring that the VA is a safe, secure place for patients, employees and visitors. Work place violence has emerged as a critical safety and health hazard nationally.
The magnitude of the problem is well documented in the literature. The statistics account not only for the actual deaths that occur, but for an additional innocent bystanders and nonemployees killed yearly. The Bureau of Justice Statistics in a report in 1994 reported that 1 million individuals are victims of some form of violence in the work place each year. Health-care providers are at an increased risk for violence because they are caring for individuals and families during a time of illness which can precipitate stress and the sense of loss of control leading to inappropriate or violent behavior. One study found that nursing staff at a psychiatric hospital sustained 16 assaults per 100 employee per year. Therefore, it is timely that this Subcommittee and the DVA investigate work place safety.
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC NOVA recognizes that the most frequent recommendation for controlling violence at our medical centers is to arm our VA police with guns. We support Secretary Jesse Brown and the DVA's reluctance to place firearms in our hospitals. The very presence of a weapon in a work environment for whatever reason can contribute to a triggering event for violence. Many of our veterans suffer long-term complications, disabilities and/or emotional trauma related to these weapons. Guns are for killing and have no place in institutions developed to promote health and wellness and the treatment of disease.
NOVA supports an alternative strategy. We recommend staff education and training along with knowledge of evaluation and intervention techniques to reduce work place violence. One problem with the successful use of staff education and training as a successful intervention method is a lack of awareness, and in many cases a belief system that denies the very possibility that violence does exist in our DVA environment. However, experts agree that the best approach to reducing work place violence is prevention and protection.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 1996 published a voluntary generic safety and health program management guidelines for all employers to use as a foundation for their safety and health programs which includes work place violence prevention program. The literature supports this belief that education and prevention for work place violence would be the first intervention. Recurring prevention themes include staff education and training, tighter security methods, adopting a zero-tolerance policy toward unacceptable behavior, developing a crisis management team which could evaluate any warnings and decide what to do about them, and the creation of a trauma team.
One intervention in particular, tighter security measures, is critical for the DVA because of the location of some of our medical centers in high-crime areas, and the growing implementation of satellite and mobile clinics. Some physical security measures recommended in the literature which we feel would be very beneficial to our facilities include increased security of personnel on the premises, improved lighting, beepers for human resources and security personnel, bulletproof glass especially in our E.R.'s and our high-profile areas, hidden panic buttons, closed-circuit television cameras to monitor common areas where outbreaks of violence occur, metal detectors in high-crime areas, and badges for all visitors. The use of firearms was not included in the literature that recommended improvement in tighter security measures.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Another invention is the adoption of a zero-tolerance policy toward unacceptable behavior. NOVA applauds Secretary Brown on his recent comments in putting veterans first where he addresses in the work place and reports that violence, threats, harassment, intimidation and other disruptive behavior in our work place will not be tolerated. Work place violence is not limited to homicide, but to those behaviors identified by Secretary Brown.
A third intervention is the creation of a crisis management team. This team would be made up of the Director, a psychologist with special training in this area, the head of security, and legal counsel for special training. The team would have a written plan to be followed when a crisis occurs or there are signs of a crisis; would evaluate the warnings and decide what actions would be taken.
And then a potential life saver in work place violence that the literature strongly supports and one most often overlooked is development of a trauma team. This team would be assigned specific jobs such as first aid, media control, management of onlookers and notification of families.
Work place violence is a problem of epidemic proportions. It can include violent, threatening, harassing, intimidating and disruptive behaviors. The literature supports that there are tactics for evaluating and diffusing work place violence issues without the use of weapons. Staff education and training along with knowledge of evaluation and intervention techniques can substantially reduce the possibility of work place violence.
Initiating prevention and intervention techniques as identified can make the work place safer by stopping a crisis before it begins.
I would like to thank NOVA's president, Dr. Maura Miller and legislative co-chair, Dr. Sarah Myers for their assistance in the preparation of this testimony.
Mr. Chairman and Subcommittee members, thank you for the opportunity of presenting this testimony on behalf of NOVA.
Page 57 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
[The prepared statement of Ms. Zicafoose appears on p. 61.]
Mr. EVERETT. Thank you. Mr. Little.
STATEMENT OF ERNEST LITTLE
Mr. LITTLE. Good morning, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, my name is Ernest Little. I'm a fire fighter employed by Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Perry Point, Maryland. I'm here today on behalf of the American Federation of Government Employees, and particularly for AFGE's federal fire fighter members.
AFGE represents 21 out of 31 Veterans' Affairs fire departments. With me is Sandra Choate. She is Assistant General Counsel and staff person for AFGE responsible for fire fighter issues. I might also add that AFGE works closely with the five major organizations representing federal fire fighters all of whom concur with our testimony.
I'm particularly pleased to have this opportunity to appear before you and share our concerns over the fire protection afforded to our nation's veterans and the employees of the Veterans' Affairs Medical Centers.
Today I'll focus on two main points. First, millions of dollars in savings would be achieved if the Department of Veterans Affairs would emulate fire services around the country and take advantage of the full range of emergency services of which fire fighters are uniquely qualified to provide. Secondly, at the present time, veterans who are patients at medical centers as well as employees are at great risk at most facilities because of the VA's inattention to its fire services.
Page 58 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC With regard to the first point, missed opportunities, we believe the Department of Veterans Affairs would emulate fire services around the country and take advantage of a full range of emergency services which fire fighters are uniquely qualified to provide, it could save millions of dollars and provide a needed and necessary service to the veterans of this country and to the Veterans' Affairs employees.
There is already a shining example of this within the system. AFGE Local 1119, the Montrose VA in New York, submitted a proposal last December to take over the emergency medical services functions. The director agreed and the existing ambulance service contract estimated to cost between $260,000 and $270,000 annual was canceled. An ambulance was purchased for $75,000 and the fire fighters took over the ambulance EMT service. There's no increase in staff and they are certified as emergency medical technicians. That justified a grade increase which cost to the VA was about $95,000. Response time from the fire department under 4 minutes as contrasted with the half hour to 2 hours for the contractor. In summaryEMS functions at Montrose will save approximately $200,000 after the first year, will provide a much higher quality of service.
At the same time, it was a job easily assumed by employees already trained to respond. This same proposal including providing EMS service to adjacent federal buildings on a reimbursable basis was submitted by IAFF Local in Minneapolis. The director concluded he was not interested. In fact, he has indicated that he is not interested in keeping fire departments. He simply wants to out-source regardless of the impact on veterans or the cost.
AFGE's written testimony provides a background for a second point with references to the science of fire suppression. It is important to understand the several factors when analyzing the need for fire service. Sprinkler in the buildings reduce the fire loss but not the fire risk at most VA facilities that are not fully sprinkled anyway. Further, when there is a fire today even in a sprinkler building, the high use of plastics and other materials, particularly at medical center facilities, result in extremely hot, fast-burning fires which produce an increased amount of toxins and smoke. Let me add, Mr. Chairman, sprinkler systems normally don't put out a fire. They're designed to keep a fire in check. Why would the VA grant a waiver to staffing levels if the facility is sprinklered? The highest injury and death rate occurs from smoke inhalation, and the most vulnerable are people who are unable to evacuate buildings such as the type of VA patient population. The elderly, sick, or those who are easily confused such as the mentally ill, the mentally retarded and those suffering from Alzheimer's or who have damage from substance abuse.
Page 59 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Both fire suppression and emergency services should always be discussed in terms of response times. It is well known how long it takes before a fire results in total loss. The National Fire Protection Association has produced a film which shows 40 seconds by the dropping of a lighted cigarette between two sofa cushions. The cushions will begin to smolder and give off toxic fumes and flammable vapors. Within 5 minutes there is total flash-over resulting in heat so hot it becomes impossible to enter the room which is roughly around 1,100 degrees.
Within 10 minutes the room is totally filled with vapors creating the back-draft condition that results in a total loss. Thus, it is critical that a response can be made well within the 10-minute limit. Mr. Chairman, when critical response times cannot be met, the VA must take needed action to ensure that the veterans and employees are protected adequately by meeting minimum staffing standards without the wide-spread use of temporaries which has been prevalent through the VA over the last 4 years. Further, that dual-hatting should not be practiced where it provides inherent conflict such as the dual-hatting police and fire fighter proposal being considered by Battle Creek, the protective services concept.
In addition, the Montrose VA example should be given serious consideration as an appropriate adjunct to services offered by the fire department. AFGE would welcome the opportunity to work with the Committee and explore ways in which the Department of Veterans Affairs fire and emergency services and provide all the Department of Veterans Affairs facilities in the most efficient and effective manner guaranteeing quality service for its customers and our nation's veterans at the most realistic cost. Again, we thank you for the opportunity to appear today and we'd be happy to respond to any questions you might have.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Little, with attachments, appears on p. 65.]
Page 60 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. EVERETT. Thank you very much, and I assure you we'll make sure all your complete testimony is entered into the record. We have a situation here. I do not have a lot of questions for this panel. I don't know that the other members will have some I'm sure. But we have a vote going on and we can either try to get through in a hurry and not have to come back. My ranking member agrees that we should do it in a hurry. Let me just very briefly, and if you would keep your responses brief I would appreciate it because I know you don't want to be around here another hour. Ms. Zicafoose, your testimony clearly indicates that NOVA's position in opposition to arming VA police. Briefly can you tell me if there's any situation where a local high-crime rate would justify arming VA police?
Ms. ZICAFOOSE. I think what we would have to do is really look at what's in place already and if there are other measures that have been taken previously that could potentially have steps that wouldn't require the use of firearms. I'm not saying that they wouldn't be necessary, but I think we need to look at what's in place to see if they have gone through every other recommended method of reducing violence before that we put the guns in play.
Mr. EVERETT. Thank you. Mr. Little, we are going to ask VA to respond to specific concerns you raised in your written testimony about VA's fire protection at particular facilities, and I can assure you that we'll do that. I'll ask Mr. Clyburn now if he has any questions.
Mr. CLYBURN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I apologize for having to be out of the room.
Mr. EVERETT. I perfectly understand.
Mr. CLYBURN. I do have one question I would like to ask. I'm thinking about your remarks this morning, Mr. Chairman, and the figures laid out about the tremendous drop in incidents that we've had. And we all know by reading all the reports that crime is decreasing in our society. However, you can't tell it by watching TV and reading the newspapers. We all know what sells newspapers, gruesome headlines and the lead story on the news every evening is going to be about some crime because that's what seems to arouse people and get numbers up. But the actual incident numbers are dropping. In view of that, I would like to know, and I think historically the American Legion has been sort of against arming the Veterans' Police. You seem now to have changed that position. Why?
Page 61 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. VITIKACS. On previous occasions when this organization testified on this subject was 1984 and 1989, over the past 13 years. At that time both of the hearings were oversight. There wasn't any discussion at that time about a pilot program. As I believe, the issue was will we or will we not do this, and I think that we were opposed to unilaterally arming VA security officers without having adequate systems in place to assure that the training, the supervision, the quality of the individuals recruited on the police forces. We weren't certain at that time that all of the criteria that we would have liked to have seen in place was in fact in place. I think that this issue has certainly improved in the past half-dozen years and the number of violent incidents have increased. And we haven't done a 180-degree change in our views, we've done a 90-degree change, and that is we support the pilot program and that's as far as we've gone in changing our position on that subject.
Mr. EVERETT. Dr. Snyder?
Mr. SNYDER. Is it Zicafoose?
Ms. ZICAFOOSE. That's right.
Mr. SNYDER. I liked your statement. I think I agree with about everything that was in it. But, you know, I live five blocks from a VA hospital in Little Rock and we're just coming from different perspectives I think. Even though I trained in one I'm too old now to have recollections of that. You're coming from the perspective of what's going on inside the hospital and I see the parking lot as an extension of my neighborhood and the security and safety factors out there, and it's my neighborhood so I know that we have had some occasional problems with houses on the edges of the parking lot and so on. So, it may be that the VA can draw the line at the door or something. I think we all agree if you have a lengthy walk, bus trip, from the parking lot that that's a different situation than what you're concerned about inside the work place environment. But I thought it was interesting when you were talking, I thought, wait a minute, she's talking about inside and I was thinking in my mind the parking lot outside. That's not really a question, but you're welcome but you're welcome to comment any way you like.
Page 62 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. ZICAFOOSE. That is a very good point, and I think the thing that we really have to be careful of is how we determine where these guns are going to go, in what facilities, and when they're being used because if you look at the statistics, in 1994 Labor reports that there were 1,071 work place deaths, but when you look at the number of actual deaths within the DVA, we probably don't make up 1 percent of that. So, does that really justify putting guns, and how do we limit where those guns are put when?
Mr. EVERETT. Thank you, and I want to thank all the panel members and the members for their participation today. I want to conclude the hearing with a couple of observations. First, we all recognize that this is a much different world than most of us grew up in. Now, all of us gentlemen are much older than you ladies here, but the world has changed. It is a more dangerous place. Having said that, however, let me say that we've heard serious questions about arming of VA police. I do not think at this point we are persuaded arming is prudent or necessary. The subcommittee will continue to review the progress of this pilot program. We'll hold another hearing at its conclusion. Second, how the VA trains its police warrants further examination in my opinion. I do not understand why the VA has its own training program when the FLETC and the FBI do the same training on a much larger scale and with probably a greater savings to the taxpayers. Finally, I would be most interested to see the VA's response for the record on the adequacy of fire protection at particular VA facilities. Safety must come first. All members will have 5 legislative days to submit questions for the record. The hearing is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 11:55 a.m., the subcommittee was adjourned.]