Lawsuit alleges VA illegally stripped benefits from J6 defendants pre-trial

by WorldTribune Staff, February 13, 2024

A lawsuit filed against the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) alleges that J6 defendants had their benefits reduced or removed pre-trial, which is against the VA’s stated policy.

Three J6 defendants, military veterans JD (Jesus) Rivera, Hector Santos, and Kenneth Harrelson, brought their allegations to investigative journalist Breanna Morello, who then submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in December 2023 on behalf of all three, UncoverDC reported on Feb. 13.

The lawsuit was filed after the VA failed to comply with Morello’s FOIA requests.

Rivera was notified in July 2023 that the VA had reduced his benefits “from a 90% rate to a 10% rate effective the 61st day of confinement” following his J6 conviction on misdemeanor charges. Rivera served 6 of his 8-month sentence in federal prison for going inside the Capitol and filming events as they unfolded. He is now serving 12 months of supervised release.

The VA sent a letter to Rivera on July 17, 2023, stating it had “received evidence from VA and Federal Bureau of Prisons Computer Match” that he was incarcerated because of a felony. However, their information was incorrect. Rivera only had misdemeanor charges, and his benefits should never have been reduced. The VA later informed Rivera that it was in error when it said he was jailed due to a felony. His benefits were restored in full.

Santos was convicted of four misdemeanor charges, but the VA erroneously alleged he had felony charges and notified him of their plans to reduce his VA benefits in July. According to a document provided by Morello and Santos, he “was ultimately hit with a bill for over $11,500 from the VA. So then Hector began to worry about what might happen. It looks as though the VA was going to start debiting his benefits instead,” said Morello.

Santos, who said the VA later fixed his pay, wants to know where the VA is getting its information about J6 veterans. “It is the VA’s job to protect veteran’s rights,” said Santos, “They were too quick to take my benefits away. I had no one outside jail helping me either. I wish I could find out who gave the VA the wrong information.”

Santos said he counts on the income from his VA benefits to cover his bills. He was unfortunately caught short because of their error and is now paying dearly.

“I had to prove to the VA that I was incarcerated for misdemeanors and not for felonies so they could reinstate my benefits because they didn’t want to or couldn’t do their own job. On November 1, I only received $165 instead of the $3,660. They said they received information that I was convicted of a felony and took all my benefits away and tried to put me almost $12,000 in debt. Because of their errors, on November 1, I obviously missed my rent payment, and lots of other bills were skipped. My credit was also damaged because of it. I got a late fee for non-payment of rent, and I was struggling and trying to send paperwork to the VA. Now I am getting kicked out of my place, and I have until the end of next month to move out.”

Harrelson, an Army veteran, was one of the Oath Keepers who was sentenced to four years in prison. He was released on Feb. 7 after spending 3 of his 4 years in prison. Harrelson is now in a halfway house.

Harrelson’s VA benefits were allegedly removed unlawfully pre-trial. His wife Angel was denied benefits because she was allegedly not named as a beneficiary in his VA file. According to Morello, Angel was sent a bill for over $4,000, which was remedied only after Morello reached out to the VA. “Magically, it disappeared two weeks later,” says Morello, “The VA reached out and asked Angel to sign some papers.” In Harrelson’s case, the VA also allegedly informed Angel that were her husband to die, he would not be buried in a military cemetery.

Morello wants to know what prompted the VA’s decision to reduce or remove benefits, especially in cases where there were no felony charges involved or in one case where benefits were affected prior to conviction.

The VA is prohibited from withholding an individual’s benefits while awaiting trial. In cases with a felony conviction, the VA can “reduce compensation when a veteran is in any local, state or federal jail or prison for more than 60 days.” Upon release, a veteran can “resume receiving pre-incarceration disability payments.” The individual must “notify the VA within one year of release or provide official paperwork indicating scheduled release date.”

UncoverDC’s Wendi Strauch Mahoney noted:

Few Americans truly understand just how bad the weaponization of our DOJ against J6 defendants has been. The Justice Department has gone after the J6 defendants with a vengeance. It has interfered in every way with their ability to function normally. Previously productive individuals have been reduced to begging for work from friends because no one will employ them. They have been debanked and their travel restricted; some are on house arrest with an ankle monitor prior to trial even though they pose no threat to society at large. Car loans go unpaid, and the debt builds. Many struggle to support even the basic needs of their families. In most cases, their sentences do not fit their crimes, no attorneys will help them fight, and courts are seizing their funding. It is one of the most egregious miscarriages of justice our country has ever witnessed, all because our government has decided to make them an example to instill fear in others who might dare to exercise their First Amendment rights in the future.

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