House bill would severely curtail public access to military records
(The Hill) – House Republicans want to stop the Pentagon from releasing the service record summaries of members of the U.S. military to the public.
Using the House Appropriations Committee’s annual defense spending bill, lawmakers have included a provision that would prohibit any funds from being used to release personal information about current and former service members without their consent.
The passage, if adopted, would greatly hamper media outlets and some employers from verifying an individual’s military service. The issue has come up in past election cycles when candidates have been found to have misrepresented their military credentials.
NBC News was the first to report on the provision.
Currently, the Defense Department typically releases the full name on an individual and where they’re from, as well as rank, past and present duty assignments, any awards and decorations they may have earned, whether they attended a professional military school, current duty status, whether they separated from service and when, and an official photo.
DOD regulation stipulates such information “normally may be disclosed without a clearly unwarranted invasion of their personal privacy.”
But House lawmakers want to shut down that disclosure to all but federal agencies or employees, state or local law enforcement agencies.
Under the proposed bill, it would be illegal for the military to release information to a member of the public, journalist or some employers regarding a current or former service member without their consent or, if the member or former member is deceased, the consent of their next of kin.
If those barred individuals do want to know someone’s military history, they would have to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the service branch the person currently or previously served. But that process is well known to be backlogged, with months or even years before a request is fulfilled.
The provision may not make it into the final spending bill to be worked out between the House and Senate before heading to President Biden for his signature.
Should the language become law, however, it would likely severely hamper the public’s ability to verify whether someone has earned medals and awards, where they served, their job within the service, what rank they rose to or whether they were even in the military at any point.
The issue came up last year, when JR Majewski, an Air Force veteran and pro-Trump Republican, lost out on an Ohio congressional seat after reports that he had lied about serving in Afghanistan even as no military records reflected such a deployment.
Also last year Democrat Clyde Shavers, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and Washington state legislative candidate, was accused by his own father of exaggerating his military service record after he claimed to have been a nuclear submarine officer, despite only having been commissioned to a submarine. Shavers ended up winning his race.
But Republican lawmakers may instead be focused on the recent cases in which the Pentagon made an error in releasing the private information of two GOP politicians who are veterans.
The Air Force during the 2022 midterm election campaigns mistakenly released the personal records of Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), a retired brigadier general, and Rep. Zach Nunn (R-Iowa), a former officer, without their consent. A person with ties to the Democratic Party had requested Bacon’s and Nunn’s records, NBC reported.