A pair of Republican senators sent a letter to the head of Veterans Affairs last Wednesday demanding answers for the department's practice of adding hundreds of thousands of veterans to the federal government's list of people barred from purchasing firearms.
The letter, first reported by The Hill, was sent to VA Secretary Robert McDonald by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R., Ga.). It questions the standards used by the agency to determine which veterans are deemed incompetent and, therefore, unable to own a firearm. The standards have led to the agency adding more than 257,000 vets to the FBI's background check system as prohibited purchasers. That amounts to more than 99 percent of the total number of people identified in the system as “mentally defective.”
The VA uses the same process to flag veterans to be denied firearms that they use to identify which veterans need help managing their finances. That process does not require that
Grassley and Isakson said the standard the VA uses to determine if somebody is “mentally defective” is far lower than the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, or ATF.
“The VA regulations do not follow ATF’s severe and substantial mental state standard,” they wrote in the letter. “Rather, the VA analyzes a person for mental defect under an inappropriate standard designed for a different purpose: to appoint a fiduciary, not to regulate firearms. Unlike the ATF standard, the VA’s sole purpose is to analyze a veteran to determine if he or she can or cannot manage their finances, and, if not, appoint them a fiduciary. It is clear, therefore, that the core purpose of these competing regulations is different. On the one hand, the ATF regulation is designed to regulate firearms. On the other hand, the VA regulation is designed to appoint a fiduciary.”
“At no time in the process does the VA determine a veteran to be a danger to self or others, a key determinant for whether someone is a ‘mental defective’ precluding the right to own firearms.”
The senators slammed the VA for not affording veterans identified under their policies as unfit to own firearms stringent due process protections. "In addition, the procedural protections that the VA affords to veterans are weak," they said. "First, the standard of review, clear and convincing, is particularly low for a fundamental constitutional right. Hearsay is allowed during the hearing process. And, there are no significant checks and balances in place to ensure that there is any evidence to conclude that a veteran is a risk to the public or themselves."
“In addition, the procedural protections that the VA affords to veterans are weak,” they wrote. “First, the standard of review, clear and convincing, is particularly low for a fundamental constitutional right. Hearsay is allowed during the hearing process. And, there are no significant checks and balances in place to ensure that there is any evidence to conclude that a veteran is a risk to the public or themselves.”
The letter ends by requesting the agency answer a number of questions about their policy on referring vets to the background check system by March 30. Grassley then sent a separate letter to the Senate subcommittee that governs the VA's funding asking them to block the policy through the budgetary process.