VA says no to SAFE Act
UPDATED to include a statement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said it will not comply with New York State’s new law requiring mental health providers to report potentially dangerous individuals to state authorities.
The Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act, the sweeping gun-control law that goes into effect this week, calls on doctors and therapists to alert county health officials to patients they deem “likely” to engage in conduct that will result in serious self-injury or harm to others.
Once notified of potentially harmful individuals, the state will check their names against a new state database of licensed gun owners. If there’s a match, local law enforcement will be authorized to remove weapons if their owner does not voluntarily surrender them.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs the SAFE Act on Jan. 15. in response to the massacre of school children in Newtown, Conn. AP Photo/Mike Groll
Mark Ballesteros, spokesperson for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said that the U.S. Constitution forces his agency to follow federal law, not New York’s new rules.
“Federal laws safeguarding the confidentiality of veterans’ treatment records do not authorize VA mental-health professionals to comply with this NY State law,” he said in an emailed statement.
Veterans determined mentally incompetent to handle their own affairs by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are reported to the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check database. While the background-check database will be used under the New York law to screen firearms sales, the information on veterans’ mental health is not included in the data viewable by states, according to the VA.
The VA provides health care for more than half of returned U.S. veterans from the Iraq and Afghan wars. New York State is home to nearly 1 million veterans, and Suffolk, Nassau and Erie rank among the top counties nationally for share of residents who have served in the armed forces.