Disability Rights California Releases New Investigative Report, “Unmasking Policing in Veterans Healthcare: Advocating for Equitable Access to Services for Disabled and Unhoused Veterans”

Press Release

Disability Rights California Releases New Investigative Report, “Unmasking Policing in Veterans Healthcare: Advocating for Equitable Access to Services for Disabled and Unhoused Veterans”

Front of a VA Hospital with the VA sign in front.

(Sacramento, CA) - Today, Disability Rights California (DRC), UCLA School of Law’s Veterans Legal Clinic, in partnership with the National Association of Minority Veterans of America (NAMVETS), released a new investigative report, “Unmasking Policing in Veterans Healthcare: Advocating for Equitable Access to Services for Disabled and Unhoused Veterans”.

This report addresses concerns raised by veterans about policing within veterans affairs health centers, which may hinder access to services and result in racial profiling and violence against Black, Latinx, disabled, or unhoused veterans. The Veterans Affairs Police Department (VAPD) of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is one of the ten largest federal administrative law enforcement agencies in the country.1  

As detailed in this report, the VAPD officers play a significant role in veteran patients' experience. Because of this role, advocates are concerned that the VAPD is inappropriately enmeshed in veterans’ healthcare. 

“Black veterans have reported feeling singled out by the VA police while trying to get healthcare. The VA should be a sanctuary for veterans, not a place where we experience police harassment. We hope the report will shed light on one aspect of structural racism Black veterans face at the VA,” said Horace Walker, Jr., the National Director for Claims, National Association for Minority Veterans.

Analysis of VAPD incident reports corroborate media accounts of broad use of police discretion within VA facilities.2 The report examines police encounters at four VA healthcare system locations: Los Angeles, California; Columbus, Ohio; Tampa, Florida; and Queens, New York. It highlights the effects of police discretion on veterans’ access to medical care, including throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Instead of healthcare professionals, police are often dispatched to make welfare checks and respond to mental disabilities, behavioral health, or substance use situations. 

“The narratives and statistics we highlight in this report show VAPD interactions can negatively impact veterans who are seeking care. The violence and legal repercussions that can result from these encounters can interfere with a veteran's ability to access the healthcare and services to which they are entitled,” said Claire Canestrino, UCLA Veterans Legal Clinic student who co-authored the report. 

Analysis reveals that the VAPD’s heavy policing of the physical spaces and surrounding areas of VA healthcare facilities create an environment inhospitable to veteran care. Unhoused veterans, veterans with a mental health diagnosis, disabled veterans, and veterans of color, especially Black veterans—all of whom are more likely to be perceived as disruptive and therefore face federal penalties-- are disproportionately affected by policing on VA campuses. 

The report notes, “Instead of having a safe space to receive medical treatment and just be, veterans are sometimes criminalized and mistreated.” 

“The VAPD’s mission is to ‘protect those who served.’ Yet this report highlights that this mission is not a reality for a significant number of veterans, particularly veterans of color and those who are unhoused or have disabilities. We urge the VA to end its practice of needlessly criminalizing our nation’s heroes, and instead fulfill its promise to support veterans by providing them with the tools they need to survive and thrive,” said Aisha Novasky, Senior Attorney, Disability Rights California.

The report outlines an approach, placing policing incident types into categories. The report focuses on three police incident categories consistently large across the four locations: well-being, spatial control, and inadequately documented incident types. It also provides a comparison over time, showing that despite the decline in medical services during the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of policing at VA facilities remained stable. Ultimately, the report emphasizes the need to reconsider the role of policing on VA campuses to better serve veterans seeking medical care. 

Media Contacts

Melody Pomraning
Communications Director
Disability Rights California


Disability Rights California (DRC) – Is the agency designated under federal law to protect and advocate for the rights of Californians with disabilities. The mission of DRC is to defend, advance, and strengthen the rights and opportunities of people with disabilities. 

  • 1. Dep’t Veterans Affs., Off. Inspector Gen., No. 19-05798-107, VA Police Information Management System Needs Improvement 29 (2020), Connor Brooks, Bureau of Just. Stat., NCJ 304752, Federal Law Enforcement Officers, 2020 – Statistical Tables 4-5 tbl.1 (rev. 2023). See also Open the Books, The Militarization of the U.S. Executive Agencies: Non-military Purchases of Guns, Ammunition, and Military-Style Equipment FY 2015-2019, at 16-19 (2020). Recent budget requests include an increase for police personnel, and multiple Congressional hearings in the last few years suggest Congress may appropriate enough for the VA to continue substantial expansion of its police operations. See Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, FY 2024 Budget Submission: Vol. 3 Benefits and Burial Programs and Departmental Administration 358 (2023) (budget request for five FTE ($1.2 million) by the Office of Security and Law Enforcement (OSLE) “to enhance the Department’s oversight mission of VA’s police force to include its services, inspections, criminal oversight, and investigations.”); Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, FY 2022 Budget Submission: Vol. 3 Benefits and Burial Programs and Departmental Administration 352 (2021) (budget request for the Office of the Chief of Police); Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, FY 2021 Budget Submission: Vol.
  • 2. See, e.g., Jasper Craven, Abusing Those Who Served, The Intercept (July 8, 2019), https://theintercept.com/2019/07/08/veterans-affairs-police-va/; Matt Agorist, Video: Cops Attack Elderly Vietnam Vet at Hospital Over Misunderstanding at Metal Detector, The Free Thought Project (May 30, 2016), https://thefreethoughtproject.com/video-cops-attack-elderly-vietnam-vet-hospital-misunderstanding-metal-detector/; Andy Marso, Veteran Died After KC VA Police Officer Injured Him During Traffic Stop, The Kansas City Star (last updated Dec. 14, 2018, 7:57 PM), https://www.kansascity.com/news/business/health-care/article223129870.html.