Fifty House Republicans have resurrected a bill that would allow some veterans considered to be mentally disabled to buy and own firearms, saying a Department of Veterans Affairs policy unfairly strips them of their Second Amendment rights.
Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, introduced legislation Thursday that would bar the VA from reporting certain veterans to the FBI's national background check database without first getting a judge's consent.
The bill, the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act, or H.R. 705, would add a step to the VA's process of reporting information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System on veterans who receive help managing their finances and benefits.
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By law, veterans who are incapable of overseeing their own bills may be assigned a fiduciary who manages a veteran's financial affairs -- assistance the VA reports to the background check system as a disability that may preclude the veteran from purchasing a firearm.
Bost said VA staff's ability to decide that a veteran who can't manage their bills is a danger to themselves or society is a form of discrimination that he argues may actually hurt a veteran by preventing them from seeking care and benefits from the VA.
"No VA bureaucrat should have the ability to instantly strip a veteran of their 2nd Amendment Rights simply because they use a fiduciary to help them manage their benefits. I have heard from veterans that this current policy stops them from going to the VA for care and services," he said in a statement Friday.
Bost previously introduced the bill in 2021, but it was not considered by the House Veterans Affairs Committee in the majority Democrat House. He told Military.com on Monday that he thought objection to the bill was a reflection of increased partisanship on military oversight committees.
“When I first came in, the VA committee was one of the most nonpartisan committees that was out there,” he said. “I have all intention of making sure it's that way."
The legislation last gained traction in 2018 when it was introduced by then-Committee Chairman Rep. Dr. Phil Roe, R-Tenn. It passed the House 240-175, with a dozen Democrats joining the majority but never was considered by the Senate.
In the Senate, similar legislation has been proposed by Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Under the Brady Act, the Justice Department may collect information from federal agencies of anyone whose ownership or position of a firearm would violate federal law, including those who are a danger to themselves or others; who lack the mental capacity to contract or manage their own affairs; or have been found insane by a court or incompetent to stand trial.
Bost said the direct reporting process for veterans who require a fiduciary violates their due process rights.
"For far too long, the men and women who have fought to protect every American's constitutional right to bear arms have wrongfully been discriminated against," Bost said.
The VA is required by law to inform veterans assigned a fiduciary of the possible impact of their acceptance of a financial manager.
Supporters of the VA's process say it protects veterans and note that the department is following the law spelled out in the Brady Act, thus contributing to public safety.
Speaking on the House floor during debate on the legislation in 2017, Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., now the House Veterans Affairs Committee ranking member, noted that two-thirds of veteran suicides occur by firearm, including the death of his uncle, a Vietnam veteran.
"To be clear, there are veterans currently flagged in the background check system who should not be there, and we need to create a fair and streamlined process for veterans to appeal their status," Takano said at the time. "But there is a balance between protecting veterans' Second Amendment rights and protecting veterans who are a danger to themselves or others."
In 2020, 6,146 veterans died by suicide, 68% by using a firearm. As part of its suicide prevention initiatives, the VA has launched a public safety campaign encouraging the safe handling and storage of firearms.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion both issued statements Friday in support of Bost's bill.
According to Kristina Keenan, the VFW's deputy legislative director, the organization opposes the reporting practice because it deprives veterans of due process.
"The VFW is also concerned that this practice stigmatizes mental health by forcing veterans to choose between seeking the care they need to cope with injuries and illnesses sustained through military service and their ability to keep their firearms," Keenan said in a statement.
"Veterans should not be concerned that they could lose their Second Amendment rights when seeking mental health assistance," agreed American Legion National Commander Vincent Troiola in an issued statement. "If it is necessary to have a fiduciary appointed to assist them, any transmittal of a veteran's personal information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Instant Criminal Background Check System should be done by a judicial authority, not a bureaucrat."
In 2017, more than four dozen groups came out in opposition of the legislation, including Blue Star Families, an advocacy organization for active-duty military personnel and their families.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime
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