House GOP aim to nix public access to military records
June 20, 2023

House Republicans aim to halt the long-standing practice of the Department of Defense sharing service records summaries for military members. A bill presented by the House Appropriations Committee aims to prevent the disclosure of personal information about current and former service members, which is commonly used by news organizations and employers to verify military service.

The DoD has the authority to release various types of information and records, but this information is generally considered permissible unless it unreasonably invades personal privacy. House lawmakers are proposing to criminalize the release of information about current or former armed forces members without explicit consent, including deceased individuals. The provision could be eliminated from the final spending bill before reaching President Biden, but concerns remain that it could still pass in both the House and Senate if partisan issues take precedence.

The proposed changes require the general public, news organizations, and employers to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the relevant military service branch, with the individual informed before any release. The FOIA process is notorious for its backlog, but requests from federal government entities or state and local law enforcement would be exempt, as the military would prioritize fulfilling such requests promptly.

Commander Nicole Schwegman, the Pentagon spokesperson, declined to comment on the Republican bill, citing the inappropriateness of commenting on legislation pending. The House introduced the Republican bill after several incidents where the Pentagon mistakenly disclosed private information belonging to GOP politicians, including former military members.

The Air Force notified Nebraska Representative Don Bacon and Iowa Representative Zach Nunn of their personal records being unintentionally released without their consent during the midterm election campaigns. The Air Force also acknowledged the improper release of personal health information pertaining to Jennifer-Ruth Green, a Republican candidate for the Indiana House, which included details about her experience of sexual assault during her military service. Green lost in the primary race for Indiana’s 1st Congressional District. The Air Force accepted responsibility for the error and vowed to share the results of their investigation with the Department of Justice.

The House Republican bill, known as the Standard Form 180 (SF-180), was released after lawmakers’ information was disclosed without their consent. This could significantly hinder the public’s ability to verify military service, including earned medals, awards, rank, responsibilities, and determining if someone served in the military. The proposed bill could be seen as an exaggerated reaction, as Congress has previously addressed false claims of military service by passing the Stolen Valor Act of 2013. This act made it illegal for individuals to fraudulently claim military honors for benefits or monetary rewards.

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