House Republicans Attempt to End Release of Military Service Records

House Republicans Attempt to End Release of Military Service Records

The House Appropriations Committee is considering a bill that would prohibit the Pentagon from releasing personal information about current and former members of the U.S. military to the public. Currently, news organizations and some employers use this information to verify an individual’s military service. However, House lawmakers want to make it illegal for the military to release information without the individuals’ consent. The only exception would be if the request comes from a federal government entity or state and local law enforcement, which the military can fulfill.

Concerns

Defense officials are concerned that the proposal could make it through the House and Senate if both parties prioritize more partisan issues. Under the new proposal, members of the public, news organizations, and some employers would have to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the military service branch to obtain the information, and the individual must be notified before the information can be released. But the FOIA process is notoriously backlogged and can take months or even years to fulfill a request. If the proposed House Republican bill becomes law, it could have a chilling effect on the public’s ability to verify whether someone has earned medals and awards, what their rank and responsibilities were in the military, or if they served at all.

Erroneous Release of Private Information

The Republican bill comes after several high-profile cases in which the Pentagon erroneously released the private information of GOP politicians who are former service members. Earlier this year, the Air Force informed Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, a retired Air Force Brigadier General, and Iowa Rep. Zach Nunn, a former Air Force officer, that their personal records were mistakenly released without their consent during the midterm election campaigns. That followed the Air Force acknowledgment that they improperly released personal health information about Indiana House Republican candidate Jennifer-Ruth Green, revealing that she was sexually assaulted during her time in the military. The Air Force Academy graduate went on to lose her primary race for Indiana’s 1st Congressional District.

Stolen Valor Act of 2013

After multiple people lied about their military service in recent years, Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act of 2013, which made it a crime for anyone to claim they received certain military medals if their intent was to gain money or other benefit. The awards include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, among others.

The Impact of the Proposed Bill

If the proposed House Republican bill becomes law, individuals, news organizations, and some employers will have to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the military service branch to obtain the information. The individual must be notified before the information can be released. However, the FOIA process is notoriously backlogged and can take months or even years to fulfill a request. This could have a chilling effect on the public’s ability to verify whether someone has earned medals and awards, what their rank and responsibilities were in the military, or if they served at all. Defense officials are concerned that the proposal could make it through the House and Senate if both parties prioritize more partisan issues.

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