- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2015

As President Obama dodges a reminder of the veterans’ health-care scandal this week, the Department of Veterans Affairs is offering free gun locks to veterans if they provide details on the number of guns they own and their home address, raising concerns about a government-run gun registry.

Some veterans have received a form letter in recent days from the VA offering gun locks if they return a completed form listing their name, address and number of guns in the home.

“As your partner in healthcare, we are committed to keeping you and your family safe,” states the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times. “Gun locks have been shown to greatly reduce death and injury caused by firearms in the home. If you own a gun, we hope you will request and use a gun lock.”

The letter said agency officials “hope to reach all our veterans with this offer.” The VA said it will mail the locks to the address provided by a veteran.

One veteran who received the letter said it raises concerns about “a gun registry in disguise.”

“Young soldiers are already notoriously reluctant to admit any problems with post-traumatic stress disorder,” said the veteran, who asked to remain anonymous.

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“Imagine the effect if the average 23-year-old private … back from Iraq, already reluctant to ask for help … is now hearing rumors that if he seeks help from the VA for sleeplessness, PTSD, nightmares, etc., Big Brother is going take his guns away? Now young veterans will really avoid asking for help,” the veteran said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama will travel to Phoenix late Wednesday but won’t visit the VA clinic where complaints about delayed veterans’ care last year erupted into scandal.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Mr. Obama has no plans to visit the Phoenix VA, and instead will give a speech about the housing industry’s recovery.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, urged Mr. Obama to visit the VA clinic that’s just a mile away from the school where he’s scheduled to speak about what Mr. McCain called his “failed economic agenda.”

“It has been nine months since reports surfaced of veterans dying due to gross mismanagement and neglect at the Phoenix VA, and despite the passage of bipartisan reform legislation, our veterans community continues to have a serious lack of trust in the VA,” Mr. McCain said. “I urge the president to take time during his trip this week to visit the Phoenix VA to begin to restore our veterans’ confidence in it, and demonstrate his commitment to fully reforming the VA system which has too often failed them.”

Mr. Earnest said VA reforms are under way with new leadership at the agency.

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“There have been some important personnel changes that have been made at that facility” in Phoenix, Mr. Earnest said. “There have been substantial operational reforms in place that are ensuring that the needs of the veterans in Phoenix are being better met by the medical facility there. We’re pleased with the pace of reforms that have been put in place. It’s clear that there is more that needs to be done not just in Phoenix but at medical facilities all across the country. We’ve made a covenant with our veterans, and this president is determined to make sure that we uphold it.”

The letter about gun locks obtained by the Times was signed by Daniel Hendee, director of the VA medical center in Philadelphia.

A VA spokesman in Washington said he was not aware of such an effort and could not provide further comment immediately.

Last month, an ex-Marine who was being treated for various health issues through the Philadelphia VA office shot and killed six family members before taking his own life.

And on Tuesday, an incident at the VA clinic in El Paso, Texas, resulted into two deaths — the gunman and a victim. However authorities released no information Tuesday night on who the shooter was, his motive, or whether it was a murder-suicide or he was killed by security forces.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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