A disproportionate percentage of the pro-Trump mob that assaulted the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 were veterans and active-duty service members. Now, a key lawmaker is calling for them to be stripped of all benefits.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., who serves on the Armed Services and Veterans Affairs committees, stressed in a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough that "insurrectionists should not enjoy benefits they no longer deserve."
"The behavior of these individuals is not representative of the large population of American veterans," said Gallego, a Marine veteran. "Yet, many of the veterans and servicemembers who attacked their own government actively and enthusiastically enjoy special benefits given to them by their fellow citizens."
As of late February, about 13% of all rioters facing charges have a military background. But veterans made up only about 7% of the U.S. population in 2018, according to Census Bureau data.
"This situation is unjust," Gallego added. "Any veteran or servicemember who stormed the Capitol on January 6th forfeited their moral entitlement to privileged benefits."
Normally, if a veteran is convicted of a felony and imprisoned for more than 60 days, disability compensation is reduced. Veterans rated 20% disabled or more are limited to the 10% disability rate, according to the VA. For a veteran whose disability rating is 10%, the payment is reduced by one-half. GI Bill benefits also are limited for felons.
Gallego requested that Attorney General Merrick Garland coordinate with the VA and provide the identities of veterans involved in the siege. He also requested Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to investigate and prosecute any service member or veterans involved under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
There are limited situations in which a retiree can be charged under the UCMJ. Active service members potentially could face sedition charges. Military law says service members are guilty if they intend "to cause the overthrow or destruction of lawful civil authority, [and create], in concert with any other person, revolt, violence, or other disturbance against that authority."
The military is trying to root out extremism in its ranks. The Pentagon said 12 National Guard troops were taken off the mission to protect the Capitol after investigators found ties to extremism. Jacob Fracker, an infantryman with the Virginia National Guard, was arrested in connection to the attack.
Leaders across the military have been instructed to have a one-day stand-down to talk to their formations about the threats of extremism.
When asked about the radicalization of veterans and the military at a White House news briefing earlier this month, McDonough said the VA is looking into why a concerning portion of members of right-wing extremists groups are veterans.
He also noted the heroic actions of other veterans during the assault, including those of police officers and Gallego himself. The congressman directed other members of Congress to safety and helped them don gas masks. Officer Brian Sicknick, who was killed by the mob, was an Air National Guard veteran.
"I also saw veterans on that day, including members of Congress, who were veterans doing remarkable things, including members of the [Metropolitan Police Department] and the Capitol PD -- veterans doing remarkable things," McDonough said.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.