VA Boosts Security After Texas Shooting

The El Paso VA facility. The El Paso VA facility. VA

The Veterans Affairs Department is seeking more contract security personnel at its El Paso, Texas, medical facility after a fatal shooting occurred there last week.

VA awarded $440,006.80 to Shetler and Associates, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based government contractor, to provide 16 additional security guards from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, from Jan. 9 until the end of fiscal 2015 “in support of the breach at El Paso VA facility located within Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX,” according to a Jan. 13 notice in FedBizOpps. The “emergency contract modification” was approved in lieu of an open competition because security guards are “considered mission critical and imperative to patient care due to a breach/two fatalities incurred,” according to the document.

The move essentially continues an existing contract VA had with Shetler, extending security services uninterrupted through Sept. 30. It’s unclear how many contract security personnel were working at the El Paso facility before the shooting.

The public affairs office at VA headquarters referred questions to the El Paso facility about the Shetler contract and the number of security personnel at the clinic. Sheila Austin, a spokeswoman for the El Paso VA Health Care System, said she could not confirm the number of officers at the facility -- VA police or contract security personnel -- because it is “a force protection matter and an officer safety matter.”

Shetler also would not comment, and referred all questions to the VA.

Jerry Serrato, a former employee at the El Paso VA Health Care System center, shot and killed Dr. Timothy Fjordbak, a psychologist at the facility, on Jan. 6, before killing himself. Serrato also was an Army veteran who served in the Iraq war.

A Jan. 12 message on the El Paso VA facility’s website said “increased security measures will be implemented at the main facility and community-based outpatient clinics in East El Paso and Las Cruces, NM. VA police will conduct 100 percent identification check and 100 percent bags check.” According to a Jan. 8 news report in the El Paso Times, the El Paso VA facility does not have metal detectors at the building’s entrances.

VA Secretary Bob McDonald visited the clinic after the shooting last week, vowing to increase security in the facility. Fort Bliss shares a campus with the VA Health Care System clinic. The Army base this past fall said it planned to ramp up security. In the wake of last Tuesday’s shooting at the VA facility, it increased security checks.

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