Senator: Veterans still losing gun rights because of VA reporting

WASHINGTON — A Senate panel chairman rekindled a debate Wednesday over whether veterans who cannot manage their own benefits should be considered “mentally defective” by the FBI and barred from buying guns.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder saying veterans issued a fiduciary by the Department of Veterans Affairs are still being automatically flagged in the electronic database used to vet firearms sales across the country.

Past analysis has found over 99 percent of the names listed as mentally defective in the FBI’s database came from the VA, and the issue has caused heated debates on Capitol Hill in recent years.

“Congress needs to understand what justifies taking such action without more due process protections for the veteran,” Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, wrote in the letter to Holder.

The VA can decide that a veteran is no longer mentally fit to handle benefits and finances and will then appoint what is called a fiduciary, often a family member but sometimes an outside party who manages their affairs.

The names of veterans who receive that designation are also submitted to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which must be used by gun dealers to run a background check before making a sale. The VA said Thursday that it still reports the information according to the federal requirements in the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.

The vets must appeal through the VA to regain control of their benefits, which can be a complex and lengthy process. Meanwhile, they may be blocked from buying guns by the database, which is managed by the FBI and falls under Holder’s Department of Justice.

“Under the current practice, a VA finding that concludes that a veteran requires a fiduciary to administer benefit payments effectively voids his Second Amendment rights -- a consequence which is wholly unrelated to and unsupported by the record developed in the VA process,” the senator wrote.

The issue had been championed by Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma who retired last year. He held up a defense budget in 2012 attempting to get the rules changed to require that vet cases are heard by a judge.