Army Veteran Faces Fed Charges after Assault at VA


Another veteran frustrated with the Dept of Veterans Affairs (DVA) and suffering from PTSD after surviving three combat tours, lost it and allegedly “made a series of bizarre threats and assaulted a doctor and a police officer at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Buffalo,” and now faces federal charges. My heart is with the veteran and not the VA cop and the VA flunkies. Army veteran Britten M. Walker goes down and all veterans and advocates should go down with him. Acting U.S. Atty for the Western District of New York is Kathleen M. Mehltretter (716) 843-5700;  x817. Ask her to drop the charges. Officials are reportedly making arrangements for Walker to be moved to a psychiatric facility. That’s good, but maybe we can get this guy a citizen’s medal for demonstrating again what the VA is. Very few veterans whom I have spoken have not felt like doing the same thing as Britten M. Walker and this guy should not be facing charges; the VA hacks should. [Salute to writer Dan Herbeck for bringing this case to the attention of our country.]

Arrest raises questions on care at VA
Inadequate counseling blamed for assaults
By Dan Herbeck

Britten M. Walker was a deeply troubled man when he returned home last year after surviving three combat tours—two in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, his family says.

Stewing in anxiety and frustration, he spent time in Alaska and San Diego before returning in August to his roots and moving into an apartment in Eden. He enrolled at Erie County Community College in hopes of someday becoming an architect.

But in late January, the anger inside Walker boiled out of control.

Federal police officers arrested him after he made a series of bizarre threats and assaulted a doctor and a police officer at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Buffalo.

Walker, 32, faces federal charges of assault, threatening to kill a VA worker and threatening to bomb a Buffalo television station and cars on the Thruway. He has been jailed since his arrest.

His family says Walker doesn’t intend to seriously hurt anyone. But they said he is angry and frustrated because he cannot find an effective counseling program.

“I think his actions are a cry for help and a cry of frustration,” said Walker’s twin brother, Andrew, of Eden. “He suffers from [post-traumat-ic stress disorder], and he needs help. For some reason, he hasn’t been able to make a connection with the counselors at the VA in Buffalo.”

After an appearance last week in federal court, Britten Walker pointed at a news reporter and railed about his problems with the VA.

“The VA is totally unequipped to handle all the soldiers who are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan and need help,” the veteran said. “This has been devastating to me and my family. . . . I’m sick of America right now.’ ”

Walker is reluctant to discuss his combat experiences, but he has said he served as a sniper and was involved in some horrific situations, said his aunt, Jean Gloss of Rochester.

Walker is not the first veteran from the wars to complain that the VA does not have enough counseling services available in Western New York.

The government agency has taken many steps to improve its counseling programs over the past few years, according to Buffalo VA spokeswoman Evangeline E. Conley.

One of those programs is the nation’s first Veterans Court in Buffalo, which handles legal issues involving veterans who are having trouble adjusting to civilian life. The VA has staff members in the court to link veterans with medical, mental health and other needed services, Conley said.

The VA also has a 24-hour suicide prevention hot line for veterans. The hot line number is (800) 273-8255.

“There is a complete array of programs available to help veterans with behavioral care, housing, jobs and other needs,” Conley said. “We have counseling that is available 24 hours a day. A veteran can always come to our emergency room for counseling.”

She also noted that the VA has expanded its outpatient programs and that it is building a new, expanded psychiatric ward that is expected to open later this year in its Bailey Avenue hospital.

“We’re always trying to tailor our services to adapt to the needs of the community,” Conley said, noting there is always room for improvement.

Because of privacy laws, she said she is not allowed to discuss the treatment of Walker or any other individual veteran.

One veteran who strongly sympathizes with Walker is Dana Cushing, 34, formerly of Lewiston. She served with the Marines in Iraq and suffers from PTSD and multiple health problems. She is currently staying in Niagara Falls, Ont.

“The VA says they have enough counselors and programs, but they don’t,” Cushing said. “You have to fight with them to get health care or counseling. I totally understand where [Walker] is coming from.”

Walker is detained at the Allegany County Jail in Belmont while he awaits trial on charges filed by the U. S. attorney and federal police at the VA. U. S. Magistrate Jeremiah J. McCarthy and federal probation officers are trying to make arrangements for Walker to be moved to a psychiatric facility.

But McCarthy said he will approve such a move only if he can be assured of the safety of Walker and others.

In court papers, police said Walker was arrested because he repeatedly made threats to kill a VA counselor. They said he stated that he was in “special operations” in the Army and had been “trained to kill.”

Walker also made remarks that he wanted to commit “suicide by cop” and said he wanted to contact a TV news crew and kill himself on TV “to send a message that veterans are not getting the help they need.”

When Eden police took him from his apartment to the VA emergency room, Walker allegedly head-butted a police officer there and kneed a doctor in the groin.

Walker has been agitated in recent months because he feels the VA is not meeting his needs for counseling, said his attorney, Tracy Hayes of the federal public defender’s office.

“He realizes he needs treatment, and I believe he’s doing these things to draw attention to the needs of veterans,” Hayes said. “He tells me that when he was in San Diego, he had a very good relationship with a VA counselor, but he hasn’t been able to establish that here.”

Walker does have the support of a caring family. Those attending his last court appearance included his brother, Gloss, and an uncle, Bob Walker of Rochester.

Walker grew up in Hamburg and graduated from Hamburg High School, according to his family. He joined the Army in 2000 and served three tours of duty in the Middle East.

His family said Walker has an estranged wife and three children, who live in Alaska. Walker is an excellent golfer and at one time wanted to become a golf pro, but his game has not been the same since he broke both his wrists during a fall in the Army, his brother said.

Gloss, a retired nurse who does volunteer work at a jail, told court officials that Walker could stay at her home, as long as he gets sufficient treatment for his PTSD.

“He’s a marvelous human being, a good person,” Gloss said of her nephew, as her eyes filled with tears. “He has a good heart. . . . He just needs help.”

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