A Marine-turned-congressman wants federal officials to deny veterans benefits to any current or former military members involved with the attack on the U.S. Capitol building earlier this year, saying they “no longer deserve” the payouts.
In letters to the Veterans Affairs secretary and attorney general made public Friday, Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., said eligibility for education and vocational training should be stripped from those individuals, as well as disability compensation and VA health care access.
“The behavior of these individuals tarnishes the image of American veterans and service members who have given so much to this country,” he wrote. “Yet, many of the veterans and service members who attacked their own government actively and enthusiastically enjoy benefits not available to their fellow citizens.”
“This situation is unjust. Any retiree or servicemember who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 forfeited their moral entitlement to the support of the people of the United States.”
Gallego did not specify whether veterans should be charged or convicted of a crime to lose their benefits. In the letter, he encourages officials to “use your discretion” to make that decision.
Whether such punishment is possible is unclear. Gallego asked both agencies to review rules regarding VA officials’ ability to revoked benefits, and whether such a move can occur under administrative action or would require congressional intervention.
According to an NPR report earlier this year, about 20 percent of individuals charged in the violent attack on the Capitol building on Jan. 6 had some past military service. One of the four attackers who died in the assault — Ashli Babbitt, shot by Capitol Police as she tried to force her way into the House chamber — served 12 years in the Air Force.
Earlier this month, VA Secretary Denis McDonough was asked during a White House press conference about the disproportionate number of veterans involved in the attack, which came as supporters of former President Donald Trump attempted to disrupt congressional certification of the November presidential election results.
He promised to look into the link between veterans and extremist ideology in the coming weeks but added that “I also saw veterans on that day, including members of Congress who were veterans and members of [local police] who were veterans, doing remarkable things … people taking concrete action and supporting democracy on the ground that day, they were vets too.”
A few days later, leaders on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee launched an investigation into the targeted recruitment of veterans by extremist organizations, citing numerous reports that hate groups have stepped up efforts to attract disenfranchised military members and veterans.
In separate letters, Gallego also requested that Defense Department and Homeland Security officials help “identify, investigate and prosecute” any current or former military members involved in the event.
Gallego served six years in the Marine Corps, including a combat deployment to Iraq.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.