Veterans Administration Gives FBI Health Secrets

Veterans records could block firearms purchases

Record-sharing practices by federal government agencies may be preventing certain veterans and their beneficiaries from buying guns.

A division of the Department of Veterans Affairs has provided the FBI’s National Instant Background Check System, or NICS, with confidential medical competency data on tens of thousands of veterans and beneficiaries for the purposes of denying “incompetent” veterans the right to “purchase or redeem a firearm.”

According to a Veteran’s Benefits Administration, or VBA, memo issued June 2, in November 1999, the agency “provided NICS with an initial load of data on incompetent veterans, surviving spouses, adult helpless children and dependent parents from information in the Benefits Delivery Network and the Fiduciary Beneficiary System.”

The memo said the information transfer to the FBI “consisted of data on 88,898 beneficiaries which were loaded into the NICS index” for cross-referencing in case a named veteran or beneficiary attempted to purchase a gun.

The agency said when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms drafted the regulations for NICS, the agency “defined the seven categories of individuals prohibited from purchasing or redeeming firearms.”

BATF, the memo said, incorporated the Department of Veterans Affairs’ definition of incompetent—which says that “because of injury or disease [a person may] lack the mental capacity to contract or manage their own affairs”—into the “category of those adjudicated as a mental defective.”

The VBA, through a “Memorandum of Understanding,” is providing the FBI “with information on veterans rated as incompetent,” the memo stated.

Furthermore, the VBA said the law requires it to “routinely provide updated information on ‘new’ incompetents.” And, the agency said, “if an individual previously rated incompetent has their competency restored, under the law they are still permanently restricted from purchasing or redeeming a firearm and information concerning that individual will not be stricken from the NICS index.”

The agency is currently developing procedures to “provide NICS with data on veterans and beneficiaries that have been determined to be incompetent since November 1999 and for periodic future updates.”

VBA officials did not return repeated phone calls for comment.

However, an FBI spokesman who talked with WorldNetDaily called the plan “a good idea” and a way “to prevent those who are mentally incapable of having a gun from getting one.”

Others have expressed outrage and regret upon learning of the VBA’s release of veterans’ health records to a government law-enforcement agency.

“We’re concerned about this information on law abiding citizens being turned over [to the FBI],” said Brian Naranjo, a spokesman for the American Legion.

He added that while the organization has “always supported obeying the law and law enforcement,” its membership “has also always supported the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.”

And, Naranjo added, “The thing is these people are veterans. They served their country honorably and were discharged honorably. They shouldn’t be denied their rights.”

He said the Legion was also concerned about the possibility that mistakes contained in the information the VBA has given to the FBI could wrongly prevent some vets from buying a gun. He noted that the organization “will be studying this in detail and issuing” a strong statement “clarifying our position” in the near future.

According to the VBA memo, NICS and the FBI have requested a “quarterly review of a sampling” of records and information being transferred, “for quality assurance purposes.”

The goal of the sampling—which used just 107 cases out of the thousands transferred—was “to confirm the determination of incompetency” made by Veteran’s Affairs, “as well as the beneficiary’s Social Security number and date of birth.”

The VBA memo said that in all cases examined in the sampling, the incompetency rating was found to be appropriate in all cases.

However, “a number of cases” contained mistakes, including misspelled names, missing name components (such as middle initials or titles like “Jr.”), as well as Social Security and birth-date errors.

The memo said personnel corrected the mistakes. The next scheduled sampling review is this month, though no date was provided.

The VBA also addressed the procedures beneficiaries should take if they are denied the right to buy a gun.

If a veteran or beneficiary was denied because of his or her competency rating, “he or she may request the reason for the denial from the agency that conducted the check of the NICS data,” said the memo.

Even if a person who was formerly judged to be mentally incompetent has had competency restored, the memo said, they must still “appeal to the denying agency,” such as “the FBI, or state or local law enforcement ...”

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, David R. Loesch, assistant director in charge of the Criminal Justice Information Services Division—which manages the NICS data—appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to report on the instant-background system.

“The FBI continues to work to build the volume and completeness of records in the NICS, but the accuracy of the records currently in the NICS appears to be quite high,” Loesch told the committee in testimony on Capitol Hill.

“The NICS has a very effective appeals system which allows individuals who wish to contest a denial to appeal the decision,” he said. However, he added, “less than 1 percent of all checks conducted by the NICS Operations Center have resulted in denials that are subsequently reversed.”

“These reversals affect only 3.3 percent of all denials by the NICS Operations Center and in about half of these reversals, the mistake was the result of information missing from the original record,” Loesch said.