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Halt prevents the VA from revoking the gun rights of veterans

Halt Prevents the VA from Revoking Gun Rights of Veterans

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has recently implemented a significant temporary measure regarding the gun rights of certain veterans. This six-month halt prevents the VA from revoking the gun rights of veterans deemed incapable of managing their financial affairs due to mental incompetence, a practice that has been contentious and criticized.

Historically, the VA reported the names of veterans assigned fiduciaries to manage their VA disability benefits to the FBI’s National Instant Background Check System (NICS). Being listed in this database prevents individuals from legally purchasing or possessing firearms. The criterion for this listing was based solely on the appointment of a fiduciary, not on a court's finding of mental incompetence or a threat to safety.

The cessation of this practice, which began in March, comes after mounting concerns that it unfairly penalized veterans. Many veterans, according to Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, have avoided applying for or collecting VA benefits out of fear of losing their firearm rights. Tester has been a vocal advocate for changing this policy, emphasizing that the need for assistance in managing finances should not automatically equate to a forfeiture of gun rights.

The new legislation temporarily blocks the use of appropriated funds for reporting these veterans to the NICS without a judicial ruling, as explained by VA press secretary Terrence Hayes. This stopgap measure was included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2024, which was signed into law last month, but will expire on September 30, at the end of the fiscal year.

While this policy does not amend the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which established the NICS, it does mark a significant shift in how veterans' mental competency and gun ownership rights are treated. Under the new temporary policy, only those veterans who are declared by a court or magistrate as mentally incompetent and a danger to themselves or others will be reported to the NICS and lose their rights to possess firearms.

This policy change has been met with broad support, including from veterans themselves. Navy veteran Abraham Conrique, for example, acknowledges the necessity of restrictions for veterans like himself who have severe PTSD but insists that such decisions should only be made through judicial proceedings. Conrique, who served in the Vietnam War, highlights the importance of a judge's involvement in such sensitive matters, reflecting a broader sentiment among veterans seeking fairness in how their rights are handled.

Organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, and American Legion have also supported calls for a permanent legislative change that would end the VA’s practice of reporting veterans to the FBI’s database based solely on their financial management capabilities. The need for a durable solution was echoed by Kathleen McCarthy, communications director for the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, who noted efforts are ongoing to establish a permanent resolution beyond the fiscal year.

The debate over this issue underscores a critical balance between ensuring public safety and respecting the rights and dignity of veterans, who may need assistance with their finances but are not necessarily a danger to themselves or others. As this temporary provision approaches its expiration date, stakeholders continue to seek a fair and lasting resolution that honors both the service and rights of America's veterans.

John Reuter

The Veteran Realtor

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