Editorials

How did a veteran end up dead after a fight with police at Kansas City’s VA hospital?

A man named Dale Farhner died in May after a confrontation with Kansas City VA Medical Center police. The VA has declined to provide any information about his death.
A man named Dale Farhner died in May after a confrontation with Kansas City VA Medical Center police. The VA has declined to provide any information about his death.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Kansas City’s VA Medical Center must fully disclose the facts surrounding the arrest and subsequent death of a veteran on their campus last May.

To date, unfortunately, the VA has stonewalled legitimate efforts to help the public understand what happened last spring. A veteran, 66-year old Dale Farhner, was detained by VA police after he apparently drove the wrong way down a driveway.

Farhner allegedly struggled with the officer and was injured or became ill. Later, the veteran was transferred to the University of Kansas Hospital, where he died.

The cause of death has not been made public.

If that description seems vague, it’s because the VA has rebuffed attempts to disclose what actually happened during the incident. It has denied Freedom of Information Act requests from The Star. More recently, it rejected requests for more information from Sen. Roy Blunt and then-Sen. Claire McCaskill.

A spokesman for the VA Medical Center referred us to the Jackson County Medical Examiner’s office, which has also been tight-lipped about the case.

The silence is deafening, and some are running out of patience. “For this investigation to drag out almost eight months is an outrage,” said Randall Barnett, president of the Heart of America chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America.

“This appears to be another example of the VA dragging their feet while trying to cover their own tracks instead of doing what is right,” he said.

After eight months, “his family deserves answers,” said Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

That is undoubtedly true. In fact, all veterans deserve answers. And the public deserves answers — we must have full faith in how VA hospitals are secured and protected.

The 2000 handbook for VA police officers says this: “Persons of unsound mind or who are emotionally disturbed will be handled with a minimum force.”

Was Mr. Farhner facing a mental health crisis at the time of the incident? Was the VA police officer fully trained to respond appropriately? Did he or she use “minimum force,” as the handbook says? Were others asked to help?

Did the VA pursue the best medical care after the incident? How did the patient die? Were those involved in the incident disciplined in any way?

Questions like these are especially pertinent because the VA’s police force is poorly supervised. That isn’t our conclusion: It’s the finding of the VA’s own inspector general, who issued a report on the force in December.

The VA needs better oversight of its police officers, the audit found, to “make certain the police program meets standards, officers are accountable for their performance, and VA police maintain the public’s trust.”

The inspector general began the audit after “hotline complaints and other information” about poor performance by the VA police. It’s highly likely Mr. Farhner’s interaction was not an isolated incident.

Trust is threatened, as it always is, when public institutions try to hide the truth. After months of stalling, the VA must make its investigation and relevant documents public.

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