Recently, Liberty Change was given an opportunity to interview longtime civil rights attorney and founder of United States Justice Foundation (USJF), Michael Connelly. The USJF is a nonprofit public interest, legal action organization dedicated to instruct, inform and educate the public on, and to litigate, significant legal issues confronting America (www.usjf.net). Connelly made headlines two years ago when he published scanned letters sent from the VA to veterans declaring them mentally incompetent, and as a result, denying them of their right to own firearms, all without due process. Even though Connelly provided the scanned documents, which can be seen below, the story was attacked by conspiracy theorists and government apologists alike who claimed that no such incident could have occurred and that it was beyond the VA’s capabilities to unilaterally strip veterans of their 2nd Amendment rights without fair trial. Of course, that is what we are all to believe, but the letters are real and Connelly is now aware of the legal precedent that the VA and DoJ are citing to justify this mass veteran disarmament campaign based on documents that he’s received from Freedom of Information Act litigation.
Because of the controversy surrounding the claims and the total mainstream media blackout on the story, Liberty Change sought out Mr. Connelly personally and was granted an in-depth interview on the background of the case and the current progress of the USJF’s FOIA lawsuits against the federal government. According to Connelly, the USJF began receiving numerous letters from veterans who were being declared mentally unfit by the VA for the purposes of owning firearms and placed in the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database without proper adjudication. Typically, if a person is suspected to be without the mental capacity required for safely owning a firearm, they are still entitled due process in which they have a chance to defend themselves with proper legal representation if they feel that the accusation is misplaced. Perhaps what’s most egregious about the case of the veterans is, as you can see in the letter, they are placed in the NICS database beforehand and told that they may request a hearing with the VA accompanied by a veterans’ service representative after the fact.
Since when has the federal government been allowed to explicitly deny someone of one of their fundamental, constitutionally guaranteed rights without access to a trial? Apparently, since 2009 says Connelly. He says the broader application of this pre-existing law began when Eric Holder took the seat of Attorney General. Based on all of the cases that Connelly has observed, he believes that nearly every one of the declarations of mental incompetency has been completely unjust. Some of the veterans have sought legal action following receipt of these letters and have been able to overturn the ruling in court, but Connelly says that the federal government still refuses to remove them from the national background check system denying them the ability to lawfully purchase any firearm.
He believes that these letters are part of a larger agenda to not only strip veterans of their firearms but to shut down anyone who tries to raise awareness about the issue. Shortly before we contacted Mr. Connelly, he was a victim of what can only be described as an intimidation attempt by some unknown perpetrator reminiscent of the type experienced by Gary Webb during the Dark Alliance story. Last summer, Connelly mailed Freedom of Information Act requests to several agencies requesting the exact criteria that they have been using to declare these veterans mentally unfit. When the agencies refused to provide this information, Connelly sent his partner to his office to obtain return receipts from the FOIA requests in order to prepare a legal filing. His partner discovered that all of the files were missing, and the related computer files had been deleted from the desktop. However, the strangest part of the whole episode was that there was no sign of a break in and nothing else had been stolen. Connelly said of the incident:
He went to his office on Saturday to mail the info to me, and the file where it was kept was completely empty. He searched the office and everything was gone that would allow us to prove that the agencies received the requests. In addition, the letters containing the requests were deleted from his office computer. There was no sign of forced entry and nothing else was missing from the office. This was obviously done by professionals and the FOIA requests information was the sole target.
This whole thing is bizarre but we will send out new requests. Obviously, this was done to try and intimidate us and delay our filing of a suit to get the requested information. We hit a nerve with something in one or more of the requests. It certainly generated an attempt to sabotage our efforts to protect our veterans (‘A Case of Sabotage’ http://michaelconnelly.jigsy.com/entries/general/a-case-of-sabotage).
Following is a transcript of our interview with Connelly, and below you will a find a link to his latest update on the case as reported on his web-site.
Liberty Change: Could you tell us what’s happened over the last year and a half, what’s currently happening, and where you see this going in the future?
Connelly: It’s been a rather bizarre situation. We sent out four Freedom of Information Act Requests to DHS, FBI, DoD, and VA. We had already sent one to the VA a couple of a years ago, and we sued them and won, but we wanted more information because more and more things have been happening since this story broke. All the agencies just ignored us basically. They refused to respond and I said, “Ok we’re going to have to file suit against all four of them, and I instructed my partner in Atlanta to send me the original letters and send me all of the cards that said the agencies received these by certified mail. He called me up from the office on Saturday morning and said it was all gone. There was no sign of a break in but his hard drive in his computer had been erased and all of the information that we had, including the original letters and all of the receipts were gone. The file was totally empty. Now, the police were baffled. [My partner] talked to a friend of his in military intelligence, which is my background, and we both agreed that this was not accident. Something we asked the about triggered a response like this, and the next day the office had been broken into again and there was an attempt to sabotage his telephones, and it’s just getting really bizarre.
We have a number of veterans that we are representing right now around the country. We have been trying to raise the money to do a major lawsuit on behalf of all of them. We have several potential plaintiffs; and frankly, we’re not charging these veterans anything but we’ve been trying to raise the money and so far it’s not going very well. We are raising some but not the amount that we need to do a lawsuit, but we’re hoping that’s going to change now. What we’re doing is representing some individual veterans in filing pleadings with the VA or [preparing] letters for them and going after the VA. I’m going to be contacting several U.S. Senators because right after I broke this story, the United States Senate considered a bill, filed by Richard Burr of North Carolina, to stop this. It was called the Veterans’ Second Amendment Protection Act, and of course the Obama Administration opposed it and the Democrats voted it down in the Senate. Now, with a new Congress coming in, there’s a good chance of passing this thing. Now, whether or not Obama is stupid enough to veto it… He probably will; but if we can get it passed, and he vetoes it, that gives us more grounds for the lawsuit. So that’s where we stand at this point with the work we’re doing on this. I’m doing a lot of publicity. I’m doing a lot of speeches on this subject, especially here in Texas where I live, I’m doing radio talk shows, I have my own radio talk show, and I’m doing anywhere from five to ten or fifteen more every week talking about this issue among other things.
LC: I’ve read your recent blogs. I’ve read about the break-in, and it really reminded me of something like Gary Webb experienced and it’s frightening. I’m curious though… I know you filed the FOIA requests to the VA in 2013, and then you’ve filed more recent requests. So what were you seeking in that first request, what was the conclusion of that, and what is different about the latest request?
Connelly: Well basically in that first request, we were after the legal justification they were using to declare veterans incompetent and then to turn them over to the FBI to be put on the NICS list and tell them that they were going to lose their gun rights. They refused to respond, so we sued them. The U.S. attorney decided that they would go ahead and have them respond, so we got an e-mail saying, “Read our web-site.” I had already read the VA web-site and there wasn’t anything on there that responded to our requests. So we went back to court with them, and this time they did send us some stuff. One of the things they sent us was a memorandum between the VA and the FBI coordinating the efforts to put veterans on the NICS list and to do so without any due process. So that’s very damaging and we’re holding onto that for litigation. We’re keeping it confidential at this point.
LC: So following the receipt of that memorandum, you’ve filed additional FOIA requests, not only to the VA, but to other agencies as well, correct?
Connelly: Yeah, dealing with different issues. One of the things we found out, for example, was that when we win an appeal, or when a veteran wins an appeal, and gets the competency ruling reversed, the FBI still refuses to take them off of the NICS list. And they’re telling them they have to sue, or actually they’re referring them to a recording which tells them that they have to get a lawyer. So, we want to know what legal justification they’re using for that. With DHS, we want to know why veterans are being put list of potential domestic terrorists (Read: The DHS continues its war on Veterans) just because they’re veterans. We want the legal justification they’re using for that. DoD has hired some outside contractors who declare both veterans and active duty military personnel as incompetent. The VA letter gives a veteran 60 days to respond; it puts the burden on them which is unconstitutional, but they do give them 60 days. The outside contractors are basically giving the veterans 5 days. Now, we’re fighting them on that and we seem to have won at least in the case of one contractor because a soldier we were representing actually got an apology letter from them saying they no longer considered him incompetent. But, the question now is will he still be on the FBI list.
Then, with the VA, we wanted to know from them about who these fiduciaries are that they’re appointing to represent these veterans because we have indications and have actually worked with a 93 year old World War II veteran who had somebody from the VA come and was declaring him incompetent and that he was going to personally handle his veterans’ affairs. The veteran had throat cancer and he couldn’t get any treatment from the VA; they kept putting him off, so he was using his own money to pay for his treatment. So this guy from the VA said, “I’ll let you write the checks but I’m still going to oversee your account.” The next thing you know, next month, the veteran gets no check, and for five months he got no checks from the VA. The VA can’t tell or won’t tell him anything. Finally, we tracked down where the checks were going and they’re going to a bank in another state to the bank account of the wife of a VA representative. So that’s why I’m asking the VA, “Who are these fiduciaries?” We suspect it’s a big business. They get 5% of every penny the veteran gets simply for doing almost nothing, other than maybe writing a couple of checks, and we think there are companies out there who are actually making a lot of money doing this and that they’re the ones accelerating the VA’s declaring people incompetent.
LC: Wow. So, I’ve noticed in these letters that it says they can have a hearing and that they can be represented by a veterans service representative, but I would think that if they’re trying to adjudicate someone mentally unfit that it would be held in front of a judge with actual legal representation. So are these veterans not entitled to have an attorney, or can they request an actual court hearing after they receive these letters?
Connelly: Yeah that’s what we’re claiming. They’re not getting that, and that’s one of the things that’s illegal because that violates the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. The veterans should not have the burden on them to prove that they’re competent. That burden should be on the VA. See, the veterans can’t even request a hearing until they’re declared incompetent. All they can do is write letters and try to get them not to do it. Once they’re declared incompetent, then they can request a hearing but sometimes the nearest place for a hearing is a couple hundred miles away from them. They have to hire their own attorney or accept a VA representative, and we don’t know anything about these VA representatives. We don’t know who they are or who’s actually sitting as a hearing officer. Our claim is that since you’re talking about adjudicating somebody to find them mentally ill and to be a danger to themselves or others that this should be done in a court room. So if it’s not a judge, then [it should] at least be an administrative judge. So that’s one of the things that we’re fighting about right now with the VA.
LC: Wow, that’s amazing. So in a normal situation, say, if someone wasn’t a veteran, they could be declared by the local police to be mentally incompetent, you know, for the purpose of preventing the purchase of fire arms; and in that situation, you would have a local hearing in your county in your court and you would hire representation. But if I, as a veteran received this letter, I couldn’t go down to say, to the County where I live, and file a motion with my personal attorney and prevent this from happening.
Connelly: Well, you would probably have to do it in federal court. So, that’s the complication there because that could be very expensive and time consuming. So that’s one reason that we’re trying to help the veterans out. We’re doing things for them. I’m not going to actually quote at this point because we’re waiting for some of these cases to reach conclusion so we can go to court. See, the veterans – if you file a suit prematurely, it will just be dismissed. The veteran has to go through all their administrative remedies. That would include the appeal process, even though it’s not a proper remedy, it’s still a remedy that they have in the law. So we’re working on trying to speed up that process first of all; get some veterans out there, particularly, if you know any veterans that are in a situation, have them contact me because as I’ve said, we are representing them for free. I’m really looking for somebody here in Texas because if we find a veteran here in Texas, whose got this situation and we go through the administrative part of it, we can file a suit here in Texas and I can be the lead counsel on behalf of that veteran.
LC: So, correct me if I’m wrong, but they’ve had this program in place where theoretically they could have done this since the mid-1990s? In your observation and your knowledge, have you seen these letters being sent out on a more frequent basis, or has there been a more steady increase in sending these letters out in the past few years? Or, has this been going on for some time and we just haven’t heard about it?
Connelly: Well, this fiduciary program has been around for a long time. It was for elderly veterans that are suffering with dementia. It was, you know, a good program at the beginning and has usually been a family member who is appointed to be a fiduciary so that the money stays in the family. But, then in 2007, Congress passed an ill-advised amendment to the Brady Bill that set up the “NICS” list. The amendment said that more and more have to be put on a list once they’re adjudicated to be mentally ill to the point of being a danger to themselves or others. When Eric Holder took over as the Attorney General, he used that language to (actually, perverted the language), and decided that adjudication no longer meant having a hearing or having a trial in front of a judge or an administrative judge. Adjudication meant that anybody who works for the federal government, even an independent contractor, can declare a veteran incompetent to handle their own affairs and they will automatically be put on the NICS list at that point. This has often been done without a psychologist or psychiatrist examining the veteran. It can be done on the basis of examining their medical records. For example, a guy that got back from Iraq or Afghanistan and lost a buddy in combat and was depressed and then tells somebody at the VA. That will put them on the list to get them one of these letters. We’ve had veterans that have been declared incompetent because they let their spouse pay the family bills or because they do it automatically through the bank. That’s been the sole justification in some cases. So, you know, they’re doing this and it started accelerating when I wrote that article, original article, that confirmed that there were 159,000 veterans on the NICS list and that 99% of them did not belong on the there. Now we estimate that it’s over 200,000 and the program seems to be accelerating.
LC: Wow, so, just to recap, you said that even if somebody uses their online banks’ automatic bill pay service, that’s been used as justification?
LC: That’s amazing. So, there’s not a lot of information about this out there, at least from what I’ve seen in the mainstream news, but what I have found are some people claiming this isn’t happening or that it is justified for dangerous veterans who may have PTSD. Based on the wide scale application of this, you said 159,000 veterans; in your personal opinion, do you think that this reinterpretation of the law and this persecution is directly connected with the increasingly frequent narrative from DHS that’s instructing law enforcement officers that returning veterans are domestic terrorists?
Connelly: There is a direct correlation. It also points out that what we have right now in the White House is essentially someone who considers himself a dictator. If you look back at dictators in history, particularly Adolph Hitler when he was elected chancellor of Germany, the first thing he did was totally nationalize the healthcare system, figuring that, “If I control access to healthcare, I control the people.” The second thing he did was he started disarming the German people, beginning with the veterans because the German veterans of WWI took an oath of office, similar to the one that you and I took, to protect and defend our constitution and they were loyal, not to Adolph Hitler, but loyal to the constitution and to what they believed in for their country. So, they had to be disarmed. That was the beginning of it and then it spread to disarming the rest of the German people. Right now, at USJF, we have filed opposition memorandum to new rule changes that should be passed by Congress, but they’re not going to be submitted to Congress. They’re going to be submitted to the agencies. The ATF wants to broaden the definition of mental illness to basically say that if you’ve ever seen a psychiatrist for any reason whatsoever, you are mentally incompetent to the point of being a danger to yourself or others. Therefore, you’re going to be put on the NICS list. The HHS has decided to do something that Obama wanted to do through an executive order. They are basically abolishing that portion in the HIPPA law, which is the law about privacy of your medical records, to give the government access to your medical records. They’re going to be able to access them; and if they find that you’ve ever seen a doctor and told the doctor you were depressed for any reason whatsoever, even if you were not treated for it, or if you’ve ever taken medications for ADD or ADHD or something like that, then that information will be sent to the FBI, so you can be put on the NICS list. No adjudication, nothing whatsoever. They’re just going to do it. So this is the process that’s going on and this is what they’re planning on doing.
LC: Now, there was one case a while back, I believe it was a Marine veteran, Brandon Raub, who was represented by John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute and he was declared mentally incompetent by local law enforcement officers after, I believe, his Facebook posts related to questioning the official government narrative of 9/11 and other political posts. In any of these cases, have you seen targeting of veterans related specifically to their political outspokenness?
Connelly: Yes, we have seen some like that. Some veterans, in fact, there in Kansas, a couple of veterans contacted me who basically had been speaking out. They were in a veteran biker club. They had been speaking out about some of this stuff and the next thing they know, they both get letters from the VA telling them that they’ve been declared incompetent. Then, I had a Marine group contact me because they had a Facebook page for their battalion. A couple of people in the battalion committed suicide and they were trying to prevent others from doing it too. It was a Facebook page with about 300 people on it and some of the Marines began getting called into the VA to be interviewed. The first thing they were asked was do you own a firearm? Oh, by the way, my fiancé went to the doctor the other day for the first time being on Medicare and they had a questionnaire test to find out if she might have symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and one of the questions was, “Do you own a firearm?” So, you know, this is what’s going on.
LC: It’s becoming standard practice for medical doctors, even if it’s a pediatrician, to ask anybody whether or not they own firearms.
Connelly: In Obamacare, there was a portion of the law that prohibits that. But, Obama did away with that portion of the law by executive order.
At this point, Mr.Connelly let us know that he had to go and we closed up the interview. Mr. Connelly was gracious for our help in getting the word out, and we were very thankful for his time and for letting the public know what is happening to our veterans. Since the interview has taken place, Connelly has posted an update on the status of the VA FOIA request. Read about it on his personal web-site ‘VA Response to Veterans: Drop Dead’ http://michaelconnelly.jigsy.com/entries/general/va-response-to-veterans-drop-dead. Also, visit http://www.usjf.net for more information on his organization and other projects that he’s currently working on.