Veterans, troops who attacked the Capitol should be stripped of benefits, Congressman says

Protesters enter the Senate Chamber on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump.
Protesters enter the Senate Chamber on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress held a joint session today to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 Electoral College win over President Donald Trump. Photo credit Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

A Marine veteran in Congress is calling for veterans, retirees and service members who assaulted the Capitol on Jan. 6 to be stripped of their veterans' benefits.

"They simply don't deserve them," said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona, a Marine Corps combat veteran who serves on the House Armed Services Committee.

In letters to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other leaders dated March 18, Gallego wrote "many veterans led or participated in this insurrection," citing reports that showed nearly 20% of those who stormed the Capitol were veterans or military retirees, "including some of the most violent of the mob."

The behavior of those who participated in the assault on the Capitol is not representative of most American veterans, Gallego wrote, and those who did should not enjoy "special benefits given to them by their fellow citizens."

Those benefits from VA include disability compensation, educational benefits, cheaper healthcare options, vocational opportunities and veteran-affiliated state programs.

“This situation is unjust," Gallego wrote. "Any veteran or service member who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 forfeited their moral entitlement to privileged benefits at the expense of the people of the United States."

Gallego asked McDonough to work with Attorney General Merrick Garland to determine which veterans participated in the insurrection and "use your discretion as Secretary of Veterans Affairs to immediately withdraw these veterans' benefits," citing "38 U.S. Code § 6104" as justification for doing so. That part of U.S. code covers benefits for veterans and their dependents.

In his letter to Austin, Gallego asked that he "quickly identify, investigate and prosecute any active service member or retiree who participated in the attack" and notify VA so McDonough can revoke their benefits.

"Insurrectionists should not enjoy benefits they no longer deserve," Gallego wrote.

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-California, ordered a congressional investigation earlier this month into the targeted recruitment of veterans by extremist groups, citing veterans who participated in the insurrection as an example.

The weeks since the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol have revealed a number of highly trained veterans who participated in the assault, including Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt, who was an apparent QAnon believer, according to her social media accounts. Babbitt was shot by law enforcement as police confronted the mob inside the Capitol. She later died in a hospital and the shooting remains under investigation.

Other veterans implicated in the Jan. 6 insurrection include retired Air Force Lt. Col. Larry Brock, Army veteran Jessica Watkins, Marine veteran Donovan Crowl, retired Navy officer Thomas Caldwell and Army PSYOP Capt. Emily Rainey, among others.

Some of the veterans charged for their alleged involvement in the insurrection could face up to 20 years in prison, according to the Department of Justice.

Capitol Police Officer and Iraq War veteran Brian Sicknick died after being injured during the attack on the Capitol.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, an Army veteran, previously called for an investigation into whether troops and veterans "betrayed the Constitution" by participating in the insurrection.

During a White House briefing earlier this month, McDonough said that the veterans who participated in the insurrection do not give a "full picture" of the veteran community, but added that the department will examine the issue and weigh any potential policy changes.

Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images