Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Opening Statement of Honorable Chairman Jeff Miller
Thank you Mr. Chairman.
With your permission, I would like to make a few remarks on H.R. 602, the Veterans’ Second Amendment Protection Act, a bill that I introduced to protect the constitutional rights of our nation’s veterans.
This piece of legislation would end the arbitrary process through which the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) strips certain veterans and other beneficiaries of their second amendment rights.
Under current practice, veterans who have a fiduciary appointed to manage their affairs are deemed to be “mentally defective.” And as a result, these veterans are reported to the FBI’s national instant criminal background check system (NICS), a system which prevents individuals from purchasing firearms in the United States, and criminalizes the possession of a firearm.
I label this process “arbitrary” because pursuant to VA regulation thirty-eight CFR section three point three five three, the definition of mental incompetency is: “one who because of injury or disease lacks the mental capacity to contract or to manage his or her own affairs, including disbursement of funds without limitation.”
In plain English, this means that if VA determines that a person cannot manage their finances and needs a fiduciary, their second amendment rights are automatically taken away. This makes no sense. As a reminder, a majority of VA’s regulations concerning fiduciary matters are from 1975. Although in the course of this committee’s oversight, VA has indicated that it will update these regulations, to date, no new fiduciary regulations have been promulgated.
In previous discussion with VA, I have emphasized that its regulatory scheme does not take into account the importance that our judicial system plays in determining when someone’s constitutional rights should be infringed upon.
I would again encourage VA to update its regulations accordingly. As a reminder, the department itself was opposed to judicial review of any kind on VA determinations all the way through 1988. Judicial proceedings are comprehensive and all interested parties have a right to be represented and heard during them.
This is a far cry from the process during which a VA rating specialist determines that a veteran is mentally defective. Accordingly, the Veterans’ Second Amendment Protection Act would require that a judicial authority – rather than an internal VA decision maker – make the determination that a veteran poses a danger to themselves or others prior to their name being sent to the NICS.
Taking away a constitutional right is a serious action and one that should not be taken lightly, particularly when it concerns our nation’s veterans. Affording veterans their due process rights under the law in any and all contexts is of utmost importance to me.
As will be further discussed during this hearing, there are other issues with VA’s fiduciary program that also affect veterans’ due process rights. I will defer to the witnesses that have been called here today to testify as to the specifics of the fiduciary program as a whole for further comment.
Mr. Chairman, I thank you and the members of the Subcommittee for your time. I would like to encourage all of you to support H.R. 602, the Veterans’ Second Amendment Protection Act, and I yield back.