By now most of you have seen the headlines on questionable websites and the urgent posts on Facebook and Twitter. It seems that the Veterans Administration is conspiring with the freedom-loathing federal government to disarm America’s veterans. This disarming is necessary for the implementation of oppressive, tyrannical government rule because our veterans are the most likely to take up arms against said tyranny.
It is a complicated conspiracy, but it pales in comparison to the complexity of the truth.
COLD DEAD HANDS
When the first VA letters began surfacing on the internet, veterans, militia types, and angry III%ers immediately went into overdrive in their tyranny warnings. This was the final straw that would break the backs of the resistance if it were allowed to stand. Similarly, veterans activist groups began claiming these letters were being sent to those suffering from PTSD and that the government was now labeling PTSD a mental disease akin to schizophrenia or outright insanity.
I’M GONNA GET AS MUCH AS I CAN
Part of the issue is rooted in the push to provide benefits to as many veterans as possible. In wars past, a very small number of veterans pursued ratings and payments from the VA. Veterans were not using the benefits they rightfully earned from their service to the country. In response, the government, military, and VA began pushing benefits and VA services on everyone who left the war zone. Veterans were encouraged to use the VA and receive compensation for the injuries acquired during their service.
Activist groups also began encouraging veterans to get the maximum rating they could possibly get from the VA. This author had no idea someone could be rated at higher than 100% until told so by a doctor at the VA. Especially if you are an out of work veteran, disability benefits can mean the difference between living in your mother’s basement and providing for yourself and your family.
THE BRADY BILL
How does being a disabled veteran place you into the category of those denied their 2nd amendment rights? This is where it gets complicated.
On April 16th, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, a senior at Virginia Tech, went on a shooting rampage that killed 32 people and wounded an additional 17. Later in 2007, in response to the Virginia Tech mass shooting, the Brady Bill was amended. This amendment was designed to fill a gap in the NICS background check system that allowed crazy people, like the VT shooter, to slip through the cracks and purchase weapons. He had no criminal background but was certifiably crazy, according to his mental health records. The amended Brady Bill made it mandatory for all federal agencies to report what mental health information they had on individuals who met certain criteria; such as being a danger to themselves or others, being addicted to controlled substances, or being deemed incompetent.
THE VA IS A FEDERAL AGENCY
To maintain compliance with the law, the VA was then required to report said persons to the FBI, who then entered the information into the NICS system. And thus, a conspiracy was born.
The legalities of an incompetency determination are rooted in the language, “judicial finding of” and “or other.” A medical doctor or psychiatrist can label you as incompetent, or a danger, or an addict. Normally, under the care of your physician, much of this would be doctor/patient privilege. But, if you are considered a danger to yourself and others, they are also required to report you to authorities. The determination can be made (quoting from the law) “by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority”. The VA, being your healthcare provider, is one of those authorities utilizing a medical review board to make their determination.
The VA, as a federal agency, is required to report their findings to the FBI. In essence, no privilege applies to this reporting requirement but no medical data is received or stored by either the FBI or the NICS system. They (FBI/NICS) don’t know why you received the label, only that you received it. (According to the NICS information provided by the federal government)
WHERE TO PLACE THE BLAME
To be blunt, much of the blame for the incompetency ruling falls upon the veteran. No veteran should find it a surprise when they receive this letter stating they are now subjected to Brady and have lost their right to own a firearm.
The VA, according to their own policies and governing regulations, is required to notify the veteran that a competency determination is being considered. This notice takes place 30 days prior to a decision. The veteran is encouraged to submit evidence and provide any information to the VA that may influence their decision. If they don’t hear from the veteran, they assume the veteran is not refuting the issue.
After the determination is made, the veteran is again notified and given the opportunity to appeal the finding and request a formal hearing. The veteran has another 30 days to respond to this second notice and has 65 days to submit evidence for this formal hearing.
If you ignore these notices or just pitch all your mail into the trash because you get tired of all the mail coming from the VA, you may have a problem. 60 to 95 days later, you may have a serious problem that makes you a felon for possessing all of those guns showing on your Facebook page. If you are ignoring the notices from the VA, you may not even know about it.
It will also be your own fault.
I’M GONNA GET EVERY PENNY I CAN
Playing up your disability, faking extreme PTSD symptoms, and describing your life as out of control may get you a higher rating and a bigger monthly check, but it can also result in you being unable to own a gun. Can’t hold down a job, take care of your kids, and pay the bills because of your combat service? If it is true, say so and get the help you need. If it isn’t actually true, but you are playing it up looking for a bigger pay day, you are creating this situation yourself.
Some vets are truly mentally and emotionally disturbed as a result of their experiences. Some vets were crazy before they enlisted. And we all know a few crazy people who have no business owning a gun, veteran or not. But if an otherwise healthy veteran receives a letter stating they are now deemed incompetent, it can only happen because they decided to not participate in the process.
By the way, even after that “final” determination, you can request a reassessment and fight to have the incompetency finding reversed. If you succeed, a report is made and the FBI submits the change to NICS and you will no longer be flagged in the system.
HOW DO THEY DECIDE WHO IS INCOMPETENT
The definitions used by the government are below. They are copied directly from the law. (Copied from the Bureau of Justice Statistics website)
Section 922(g)(4), Title 18, United States Code, prohibits the receipt or possession of firearms by an individual who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective” or “committed to a mental institution.” Regulations issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), 27 C.F.R. § 478.11, define these terms as follows:
Adjudicated as a mental defective.
(1) A determination by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority that a person, as a result of marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease:
- Is a danger to himself or to others; or
- Lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs.
(2) The term shall include —
- A finding of insanity by a court in a criminal case; and
- Those persons found incompetent to stand trial or found not guilty by reason of lack of mental responsibility pursuant to articles 50a and 72b of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. 850a, 876b.
Committed to a mental institution. A formal commitment of a person to a mental institution by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority. The term includes a commitment to a mental institution involuntarily. The term includes commitment for mental defectiveness or mental illness. It also includes commitments for other reasons, such as for drug use. The term does not include a person in a mental institution for observation or a voluntary admission to a mental institution.
As you can see, this isn’t some grand conspiracy to disarm our nation’s veterans. This is the law as it stands today. A finding of incompetence has the same effect on all citizens and it isn’t the doing of the VA. In many cases, dare I say… most cases.. It may be the fault of the veteran themselves. And those who legitimately have been determined to be mentally disabled to the point that they can’t care for themselves or contract on their own behalf, well, do we really want them in possession of firearms? We wouldn’t if the shoes were on the feet of a crazy civilian. So, why would our opinion be different in the case of a veteran?
As for the association with PTSD, I can find none. I know a multitude of veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD and none of them have received this letter from the VA or a notice that the VA believes them to be incompetent. The vast majority of the incidents involving this letter are related to fiduciary responsibility, as in veterans who aren’t capable of managing their own money and require a guardian be appointed to take care of the veteran’s financial affairs.
Even gun-loving, NRA-supporting, 2nd Amendment protecting right-wingers who are currently wearing “from my cold, dead hands” t-shirts agree that guns should be kept out of the hands of the mentally ill. We admonish our government to keep those guns out of those unstable hands instead of infringing upon the God-given rights of the law-abiding citizens. We say the words. And when the government takes actions to do just that, we cry tyranny. This isn’t tyranny or a conspiracy. It is the government doing what we have asked them to do.
UPDATE: The major concern arising from the research into this particular issue seems to be the disparity of application of the law. For instance, the Social Security Administration does not seem to utilize the same reporting criteria for their recipients who require a payee (guardian). The SS Administration is also a Federal Agency. Reviewing Social Security’s own policy, they do not equate the need for a payee with being otherwise incompetent (and reportable). The question remains, what criteria is utilized by VA that sets it apart from other disability benefit organizations. Bear in mind, this law applies only to Federal agencies, not State agencies. But, if you believe you are 100% disabled, and HAVE NOT applied for disability through the VA, the Social Security Administration may be a better option if you are concerned about your 2nd Amendment rights. The SSA does not seem to use the same criteria for determining incompetence in financial affairs.
It is likely that the VA uses more criteria than simple financial management when making these determinations but, until we have the exact criteria to share, we have to assume they are using very little.
We will continue to look into this issue over the coming days and will update this post with any new findings that may be of interest.