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VA Officials Tell Lawmakers They Won’t Comply With Proposed Laws to Preserve Veterans Gun Rights

The entrance to the Edward P. Boland Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Leeds. (Hoang 'Leon' Nguyen / The Republican/TNS)
July 11, 2024

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs officials testified during a Wednesday House hearing that the department would not comply with proposed legislation barring it from sending certain information about U.S. military veterans to the federal government’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

For years, the VA’s policy has been to notify the NICS system if a veteran or beneficiary relies on a fiduciary to manage their benefits and financial affairs. The VA reasons that reliance on a fiduciary indicates a beneficiary is mentally incompetent. Federal law states firearms dealers receive a “deny message” if a NICS check for a potential buyer determines the buyer has been adjudicated as a mental defective.

Congressional Republicans have introduced several bills to block the VA from reporting to NICS when a veteran relies on the assistance of a fiduciary, out of concern those veterans could be barred access to firearms as a result.

In May, the Republican-led House Veterans Affairs Committee advanced a bill titled the “Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act,” to reverse this VA policy on NICS reporting. The bill states the VA may only report a veteran or VA beneficiary to NICS after a judicial authority determines that person is a danger to themselves or others.

But at a July 10 House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, VA Deputy Undersecretary Glenn Powers testified that the department opposes the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act. Powers insisted the VA already provides a sufficient method for beneficiaries who have been reported to NICS to “petition for relief.”

“VA did not err in reporting, and if passed into law VA could not comply,” Powers said.

Powers also signaled the VA’s opposition to a forthcoming bill being prepared by Rep. Eli Crane (R-AZ), to be titled the “Safeguarding Veteran Second Amendment Rights Act.” The bill would bar the VA from joining in support of what are known as extreme risk protective orders or “Red Flag” laws, to seize a person’s firearms prior to a criminal conviction, if they are deemed to pose a risk to themselves or others.

Powers said the legislation “places the security and safety of veterans their families and communities at risk and ultimately prevents VA from providing appropriate care for some of our most vulnerable veterans.”

Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) challenged the VA witnesses later on in the hearing to explain their opposition to the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act. Rosendale asked if referring to VA beneficiaries relying on fiduciaries as mentally incompetent makes veterans more or less likely to turn to the VA for healthcare and other needs.

VA Deputy Director of Pension and Fiduciary Service Kevin Friel denied that referring to veterans as mentally incompetent makes them less likely to want to seek the VA’s help, but said “we could
probably look at better language” for referring to those veterans.

Rosendale next asked Friel if he was at all concerned that veterans might not seek the VA’s assistance out of fear they could be denied their Second Amendment Rights as a result.

“I am not,” Friel replied.

Rosendale said the VA’s policies led him to believe the department is either trying to avoid providing certain types of care to veterans or is attempting to help seize firearms from those veterans. Rosendale also expressed concern that the VA might not comply with new legislation to protect veteran Second Amendment rights.

“Is it the VA’s position that the VA will not comply with an act of Congress?” he asked.

“Yes sir. I guess, based off of what you have in testimony, yes sir,” Friel replied.

“That you would not comply?” Rosendale reiterated.

“Yes sir,” Friel said again.

“Well, I’m glad everybody hears that on the record—that the VA is going to refuse to comply regardless of what we actually pass here,” Rosendale said.

Minutes later in the hearing, Crane again pressed Friel to explain his thought process for deciding whether to follow the laws passed by Congress.

“The problem is we’re talking about veterans’ rights and due process and their right to bear and keep arms, another constitutional premise. But you, you’re willing to do what your boss tells you to do, even if it violates their rights,” Crane said. “You should do some soul searching sir, you really should.”

This article was originally published by FreeBase News and is reprinted with permission.