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UPDATE ON VETERANS’ GUN RIGHTS ISSUE

April 2, 2013

Our investigation into the plight of our military veterans and the assault on their Second and Fifth Amendment rights continues to uncover a disturbing pattern that confirms that the VA is violating the Constitutional rights of America’s heroes on a daily basis. The investigation included two separate requests to the VA under the federal Freedom of Information Act. We asked for the criteria used for appointing a fiduciary for veterans to handle their financial affairs and for information on the criteria for adding such veterans to the list of Americans ineligible to buy firearms. The legal deadline for a response from the VA has passed and our requests have been totally ignored. This does not surprise me because it is obvious that the VA has much to hide.

         Between the information we are receiving from veterans around the country and our research of the law and history of the VA fiduciary program we have come up with a timeline of what has happened and is happening to our veterans. While the VA fiduciary program has been in place for years it was designed to appoint someone, usually a family member, to handle the VA payments for veterans who were unable to handle these financial matters themselves because of some type of severe mental problems such as dementia.

          There have been problems with the system from the beginning, but the problems regarding the Second amendment rights of veterans are much more recent. In 1993 Congress passed the Brady Bill that mandated a national background check system that was designed to keep convicted felons and those individuals declared mentally defective and found to be a danger to themselves or others from being able to legally purchase firearms.

          In 2007 the Congress passed some ill advised amendments to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The amendments were in response to the Virginia Tech shooting, (which did not involve a veteran) and were designed to make sure that people adjudicated to be “mentally defective” were on the list. However, the disqualification criteria remained the same, a person had to be found to be a danger to themselves or others or “lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs.”

          Since that amendment was adopted the VA has decided that all veterans that it declares “incompetent” to handle their VA payments are also ineligible to purchase or own firearms.  There is absolutely nothing in the NICS criteria that states that those with physical disabilities belong on the list of individuals prohibited from owning firearms, yet the VA specifically states in their letter to veterans that this is part of their criteria. In addition, our investigation has found that the VA is using reasons such as minor depression, minor PTSD, and even minor short term memory loss as grounds for declaring veterans “mentally defective.”  In some cases, the veterans are not even given a reason.

          It has also become clear that there has been a rapid acceleration over the last few years in the efforts by the VA to declare veterans incompetent and deny them the right to possess firearms. Veterans who go to the VA for routine checkups or for treatment of physical illnesses are routinely asked if they own firearms. In fact, this in apparently a required question that all VA employees must ask of all veterans.

          In other words, virtually anything can trigger an attempt by the VA to declare a veteran incompetent and deny them their Second Amendment rights. The Constitutional requirements of due process are completely ignored and veterans must fight this on their own at their own expense. To make matters even worse, we are receiving reports from veterans that if they even attempt to resist the declaration of incompetence, the VA is threatening to, and in some cases actually withholding the monetary payments to the veterans unless they agree to the VA declaration.

          Our research has determined that there are at least four separate categories of veterans that the United States Justice Foundation needs to represent in either administrative actions or in court. They are:

1. Veterans who have received a letter from the VA threatening to declare them incompetent, but no decision on competence have been finalized.

2. Veterans who have received the letter and been declared incompetent and added to NICS list for unjust reasons.

3. Veterans who have been declared incompetent and had it reversed, but are still on the NICS list.

4. Veterans who have received the VA letter and are having their VA funds withheld because they are fighting to keep from being declared incompetent.

      The situation with the veterans and their rights has not gone completely unnoticed in Congress. Last year an amendment was offered in the Senate to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act to stop the VA from arbitrarily adding veterans to the NICS list. It was opposed by the White House and failed to pass. Just a few weeks ago Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina introduced S 572, the “Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act”. It is a good piece of legislation to protect veterans and all members of Congress should be urged to support it. Unfortunately, so far only 11 Senators have signed on as co-sponsors and none of them are Democrats.

      In the meantime, any veterans with information on this or who need help should contact me immediately at usjf.net.

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