Bob Unruh joined WND in 2006 after nearly three decades with the Associated Press, as well as several Upper Midwest newspapers, where he covered everything from legislative battles and sports to tornadoes and homicidal survivalists. He is also a photographer whose scenic work has been used commercially.More ↓Less ↑
The first in what is expected to be a series of lawsuits has been filed by the United States Justice Foundation against the Veterans Administration for snatching veterans’ gun rights without “due process” or any “factual or legal basis.”
The problem arises when the agency wants to appoint a fiduciary – someone to advise a disabled veteran or one receiving certain government benefits – to help with the management of those benefits.
The government then routinely notifies the FBI’s NICS system, a federally maintained list of those whose competency has been challenged, and that means they no longer can purchase a gun – or even keep the one they may have.
Michael Connelly, executive director of the USJF, told WND the initial lawsuit is to compel the VA to respond to two requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
“The information requested included Veterans Benefits Administration rules, regulations and criteria for making ‘determinations of incompetency due to a physical or mental condition of a benefit recipient,’” the legal team explained.
Copies of the rules, regulations and criteria “used by the VBA to determine that a veteran found incompetent for any reason can be ‘prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm,’” the team said.
The USJF said the VA simply didn’t respond.
“The USJF has received numerous complaints from military veterans around the country who are being declared incompetent to handle their own financial affairs and then told that they can no longer purchase or own firearms or ammunition,” said Connelly. “This determination is being made without due process protections for the veterans and the basis for the incompetency ruling is often arbitrary and without a factual or legal basis.”
The action has been filed in the U.S. District court for the Southern District of California.
“The USJF will not charge the veterans or their families any fees or expenses for its representation,” Connelly said. “As a veteran myself I know that America’s heroes, many of them recovering from wounds, do not need the additional pressure of having to pay to defend their rights.”
WND broke the story earlier that the Obama administration insists it is routine for officials to send out letters informing veterans that an unidentified “report” indicates they may be declared incompetent and consequently stripped of their Second Amendment rights.
The 2009 report, from the Department of Homeland Security, was called “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.” It also said Obama’s governmental managers were “concerned that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.”
So when hundreds, perhaps thousands, of veterans began receiving letters like the one dispatched from the Portland, Ore., office of the Department of Veterans Affairs, alarm bells went off.
WND had reported earlier that a veteran in Oregon received a letter informing him of “a report from Portland VA Medical Center on December 3, 2012.”
Evidence already in
The letter warned the vet that “evidence indicates that you are not able to handle your VA benefit payments because of a physical or mental condition.”
“We propose to rate you incompetent for VA purposes. This means we must decide if you are able to handle your VA benefit payments. We will base our decision on all the evidence we already have including any other evidence you sent to us.”
Completion of the incompetency determination would mean a “fiduciary” would be appointed to manage the veteran’s payments.
The VA also warned: “A determination of incompetency will prohibit you from purchasing, possessing, receiving, or transporting a firearm or ammunition. If you knowingly violate any of these prohibitions, you may be fined, imprisoned, or both.”
The letter then offered the veteran an opportunity to “request a personal hearing within 30 days from the date at the top of this letter to present evidence or argument on any important point in your claim.”
But it said the VA will not pay some of the expenses of the hearing.
“If we don’t hear from you within the next 60 days, we will assume you have no additional evidence and do not want a hearing. After those 60 days we will make our decision using the evidence we already have and tell you our decision.”
The letter was signed by K. Kalama, Veterans Service Center manager in the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs. But it didn’t present the “evidence,” the source of the evidence or why the veteran’s competency even was questioned.
The veteran contacted the United States Justice Foundation, which defends civil and religious rights, and now that organization reports a flood of similar concerns expressed by veterans across the country.
In a statement on the organization’s website, Connelly first said his organization was pursuing a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Veterans Affairs to “force them to disclose the criteria they are using to place veterans on the background check list that keeps them from exercising their Second Amendment rights.”
“Then we will take whatever legal steps are necessary to protect our American warriors,” he wrote.
WND contacted the Department of Veterans Affairs, and spokesman Randy Noller responded with a statement that the letters were no more than routine. But questions about why the letters are being sent, what evidence is used to determine a veteran is incapable of managing his or her affairs, who provides that information and why it is provided remain unanswered.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs’ policy to inform veterans of their rights regarding the Brady Act has not changed,” the statement said. “As has been policy for multiple administrations, VA acts in accordance with federal law and works with the Department of Justice to properly maintain the NICS database. VA notifies any veteran who may be deemed by VA to be mentally incapable of managing his or her own funds of the opportunity to contest this determination and also to seek relief from the reporting requirements under the Brady Act, as required by law.”
Also unanswered were who makes the decision to put in motion the department’s decision to “deem” veterans “mentally incapable.”
The VA did include some background that the law allows such actions for those who “have been ‘adjudicated as a mental defective.’” But the VA declined to provide information about any adjudication process.
It only said, “Before VA makes determinations of incompetency it affords the affected individuals due process – advance notice and an opportunity to be heard and submit evidence of their ability to manage funds.”
The letters, apparently, comprise the notice.
But all does not sit well with Connelly, whose organization is digging now into matter.
The Oregon letter, he said, sounds “like something right from a documentary on a tyrannical dictatorship somewhere in the world.”
“Yet, as I write this I have a copy of such a letter right in front of me,” he said. “It is being sent by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of America’s heroes.”
Connelly noted the letter “provides no specifics on the reasons for the proposed finding of incompetency; just that is based on a determination by someone in the VA.”
“In every state in the United States no one can be declared incompetent to administer their own affairs without due process of law and that usually requires a judicial hearing with evidence being offered to prove to a judge that the person is indeed incompetent,” he explained.
“This is a requirement of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that states that no person shall ‘be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.’
“Obviously, the Department of Veterans Affairs can’t be bothered by such impediments as the Constitution, particularly since they are clearly pushing to fulfill one of Obama’s main goals, the disarming of the American people. Janet Napolitano has already warned law enforcement that some of the most dangerous among us are America’s heroes, our veterans, and now according to this letter from the VA they can be prohibited from buying or even possessing a firearm because of a physical or mental disability,” Connelly wrote.
Connelly argued there “are no clear criteria for the VA to declare a veteran incompetent.”
“It can be the loss of a limb in combat, a head injury, a diagnosis of PTSD, or even a soldier just telling someone at the VA that he or she is depressed over the loss of a buddy in combat. In none of these situations has the person been found to be a danger to themselves or others. If that was the case than all of the Americans who have suffered from PTSD following the loss of a loved one or from being in a car accident would also have to be disqualified from owning firearms. It would also mean that everyone who has ever been depressed for any reason should be disarmed. In fact, many of the veterans being deprived of their rights have no idea why it is happening,” Connelly said.
He said the issue raises another huge question.
“We have to ask who will be next. If you are receiving a Social Security check will you get one of these letters? Will the government declare that you are incompetent because of your age and therefore banned from firearm ownership. It certainly fits in with the philosophy and plans of the Obama administration,” he wrote.
Read the letter:
Bob Maginnis, senior fellow for national security at Family Research Council, which was attacked by an unstable left-winger with a gun just last year, told WND there is a legitimate concern that some veterans affected by the stress and violence of war may not be good candidates to possess arms caches.
There are processes, however, that should be followed, he said.
Maginnis is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and senior strategist with the Army and has served in study groups for the Army chief of staff.
He notes that of those veterans returning from Middle East conflicts, battle wounds and skeletal issues are the top two reasons for their departure. Third is mental issues.
And it’s a fact that suicide among veterans is higher than the general population, he said.
“It would not be hard to conclude that perhaps people who have been in combat and have now had to go find medical assistance … could potentially be a marker for problems,” he said.
“Look at the veteran population that is homeless. That’s a marker as well.”
But he also said for the government “to suggest they’re going to come in and take over financial situation without a court order; I’m very concerned about that.”
Rees Lloyd, a longtime civil rights attorney who is past commander and judge advocate for the American Legion in California, told WND the issue is not that complicated: A government power is announcing to veterans they will be stripped of their rights unless they can prove themselves innocent.
“I don’t know of any other class of Americans being deemed to be guilty rather than presumed to be innocent,” he told WND. “What the VA is doing, and has done consistently, is treat American veterans if we are the enemy, instead of the defenders of America.”
He said the issue was being brought to the attention of the Legion.
“I would think it’s very likely there will be a resolution soon,” he said.
“I don’t know any of other Americans ‘deemed’ to be incompetent because of [war injuries and stress,]” he said. “I have stress every time I read of the latest government atrocities. They haven’t classified me yet that I can’t obtain a weapon.”
He called it the “bureaucratic version of racial profiling.”
“If you have stress and you’re a vet, you can’t own a weapon,” he said.
WND previously reported when DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano made terrorists portrayed in a public service announcement look Caucasian.
The PSA depicted a typical woman terrorist would be Caucasian, in her late 20s or early 30s, with brunette hair, stylish clothing, high heels and a shoulder bag. A man? About the same age, short hair, wearing a shirt and slacks and familiar with technology, as he’s wearing an earpiece cellphone. And Caucasian.
The PSA asks that people watch out for those types of individuals and report them to authorities.
As WND reported, a West Point study released by the U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center linked those with “fundamental” positions, such as opposing abortion, to terror.
Author Arie Perliger cites “anti-abortionists” as an active threat for terrorist activity.
“The anti-abortionists have been extremely productive during the last two decades, amassing 227 attacks, many of them perpetrated without the responsible perpetrators identified or caught,” Perliger wrote. “And while, in both cases, the 1990s were more violent than the last decade, in the case of anti-abortion, the trend is much more extreme, as 90 percent of attacks were perpetrated before 2001.”
“I can see exactly what is going on with reference to the pro-life movement. The use of two words expose the bias and hatred for what we stand for as a movement. Those words are ‘attacks’ and ‘violence’,” Brown said.
“Professor Perliger has adopted the strategy of many left-wing members of the professoriate, concentrating on the behavior of a few in order to discredit many who hold similar views but who do not engage in any form of violence,” Titus said.
“His theory is that of the iceberg, that which as seen may be small, but it hides what is a much larger threat just below the surface. Obviously, the professor disagrees with those who favor small government, cutting back of federal government encroachments upon the powers of the state and to discredit this movement focuses on a few gun-toting militia,” Titus said.
Titus turns his attention to who he believes is the source of the study.
“Like so many in the Obama administration, Perliger does not want to engage in any dialogue on the issues, but just discredit an entire political movement by ad hominem charged words,” Titus said. “Perliger is not a serious scholar, but a propagandist for the existing regime.”
Said Connelly about the developing controversy with veterans: “The reality is that Obama will not get all of the gun control measures he wants through Congress, and they wouldn’t be enough for him anyway. He wants a totally disarmed America so there will be no resistance to his plans to rob us of our nation.”