House Republicans propose banning public access to servicemen’s military records

House Republicans are trying to end the decades-old practice of the Pentagon releasing service summaries of U.S. military members to the public.

The House Appropriations Committee bill would prohibit funds from being used to disclose personal information about current and former service members, which news organizations and some employers use to verify an individual’s military service.

According to the Department of Defense, the types of information that can currently be disclosed vary, but generally include full name, rank, date of rank, past and present duty assignments, awards and decorations, attendance professional military schools, service status in a given position. time, registration house and official photo.

Current MoD regulations state that such and other background information “may normally be disclosed without manifestly unjustified invasion of privacy.”

House lawmakers now want to prohibit the military from releasing information about any current or former member of the armed forces without their consent. If the person is deceased, the next of kin must give consent.

The provision could be deleted from the final spending bill that will eventually arrive on President Biden’s desk. But defense officials fear it could go through the House and Senate if both sides prioritize more partisan issues.

Under the new proposal, members of the public, new organizations and certain employers would have to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the military service branch to obtain the information, and the person must be informed before the information can be disclosed. . But the FOIA process is notoriously late and can take months or even years to respond to a request.

The only exception would be if the request is from a federal government entity or state and local law enforcement, which the military can fulfill.

Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman declined to comment, saying, “It would be inappropriate to comment on pending legislation.”

Rep.  Zach Nunn, R-Iowa.  (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Rep. Zach Nunn, R-Iowa. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

The Republican bill comes after several high-profile cases in which the Pentagon mistakenly leaked the private information of GOP politicians who are former service members. Earlier this year, the Air Force briefed Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, a retired Air Force brigadier general, and Iowa Rep. Zach Nunn, a retired Air Force officer. of the Air Force, that their personnel files were mistakenly released without their consent during midterm election campaigns. Whoever requested Bacon and Nunn’s records has ties to the Democratic Party.

This followed the Air Force’s acknowledgment that it had improperly released personal health information about Republican Indiana House candidate Jennifer-Ruth Green, revealing that she had been sexually assaulted during her military service. The Air Force Academy graduate then lost her primary race for Indiana’s 1st congressional district.

The Air Force admitted it was a mistake to release such information without the consent of the individual and pledged to send the results of their investigation to the Department of Justice.

“Department of the Air Force employees did not follow proper procedures requiring the member’s release signature consenting to the release of information,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told NBC. News. “There was no evidence of political motivation or malicious intent on the part of any employee.”

In this case, however, the information was released after someone submitted a separate request, known as Standard Form 180, or SF-180, which may request release of more than the basic details provided to media and to the public by the military. . It can include social security numbers and additional private information about an individual. The SF-180 requires the service member to sign the form and approve the release, but this did not happen in the case of releasing information from lawmakers.

“This is an overreaction to a misunderstanding,” a defense official told NBC News. “People confuse two processes.”

If the bill proposed by House Republicans becomes law, it could have a chilling effect on the public’s ability to check whether someone has won medals and awards, what their rank was and their responsibilities in the army, or if he served at all.

After several people lied about their military service in recent years, Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act of 2013, which makes it a crime for anyone to claim to have received certain military medals if their intention was to earn money. money or some other advantage. Rewards include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, among others.

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