Washington, D.C. – On Monday the Senators of the Senate Armed Services Committee(SASC) held a fact finding meeting with the senior leader of the Marine Corps, Commandant General Robert Neller to demand answers in regards to an investigation into the 30,000 member secret Facebook group of former and active duty Marines known as ‘Marines United’ who were exposed last week by former Marine turned investigative journalist, Thomas Brennan of the War Horse, running an explicit nude photo sharing ring of fellow female Marines. As soon as the Senate meeting came to order the Senators of the SASC pulled no punches as they began grilling the Commandant on the conduct of his Marines.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y an outspoken critic of the Pentagon’s handling of sexual harassment and assault declared that Gen. Neller’s promise to ‘fix the problem’ when reports of sexual harassment within the Marine Corps dating back to 2013 were addressed in Senate are “ringing hollow.” Sen Gillibrand stated “You[Gen. Neller] have demanded that you maintain control of all these issues, but where is the accountability for failure? … I am very concerned that this is part of a culture that is resulting in the high levels of sexual assault.” The Marine Commandant did not mince his words in his reply to the Senator taking full responsibility for the actions of his Marines by replying “I don’t have a good answer for you. I’m not going to sit here and duck around this thing, I’m not. I’m responsible. I’m the Commandant. I own this. … I know you’ve heard it before, but we are going to have to change how we see ourselves and how we treat each other. That’s a lame answer, but ma’am, that’s the best I can tell you right now. We’ve got to change, and that’s on me.”
Commandant Gen. Neller went on “We have to commit to get rid of this perversion to our culture. Enough is enough.” the senior Marine commander also assured the Senators that; “We will take action to correct this stain on our Marine Corps.” And that those active duty Marines involved with this scandal may be subject to punishment under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Former commanding general, now Secretary of Defense, Secretary Mattis, echoed in his statement on the scandal made last week. Yet, what about the veterans of Marines United who are still setting up secret groups and posting more nude photos faster than they can be taken down?
“Come At Me, Bro!”
Senators Thom Tillis of North Carolina along with Air Force veteran Lindsay Graham addressed the issue of how to levy punishment to Marine Corps veterans who make up the majority of the scandal. The Marine veterans seemingly affiliated with Marines United continue to post explicit pictures and set up more sharing groups in a fantastic display of idiocy have now begun posting pictures of themselves literally hiding behind their honorable discharge paperwork and taunting the current Marine Corps leadership as well as the Navy Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS). As if they honestly think they above the law because they are a veteran.
This picture specifically referenced by Senator Graham made the Senator to simply state: “Let’s make him famous.” Senator Tillis added to this statement by asking “If there is something we can do to disallow their benefits … that may be something we should do.” These statements drive the narrative to this simple question. Can the government and the Veterans Affairs do this? Bottom line up front. Yes.
The moniker ‘veteran’ in layman’s terms basically means you have served within the armed services and have now left that service, making you a civilian, subject to civilian laws. Let’s focus on Senator Tillis’s state of North Carolina which has a large population of active duty Marines at Camp Lejeune as well as an even larger veteran population. North Carolina has a ‘Revenge Porn Law’ which, if convicted, nabs the perpetrator with a class H felony. The definition of ‘revenge porn’ in accordance with criminal law states:
“Revenge porn sites feature nude and sexual photos of people, mostly women, often posted by their ex-spouses or ex-lovers. A number of websites host these images. Many sites include identifying details, such as the person’s full name, employer, and hometown, as well as links to the person’s Facebook or other personal webpages, plus nasty comments. Although some revenge porn sites have been shut down, new sites pop up all the time. Images can also be easily picked up by other websites, and content that is widely distributed on the Internet is difficult to remove. So, even if a person succeeds in getting images removed from one site, it may be difficult or impossible to get them completely off the Internet.”
The Marines United Facebook group quite literally falls under this definition of civil criminal law and intent and can be prosecuted under U.S. criminal court. Something these Marine veteran seem to think they don’t fall under. However what does this have to do with these veterans VA benefits? Well let’s focus on the class H felony charge and what the VA has in place for veterans that run afoul with U.S. laws. The Veterans Affairs has a little known section on its website called ‘Incarcerated Veterans.’ The VA gives a brief explanation:
“Veterans can sometimes run into issues with law enforcement and the criminal justice system resulting in incarceration. It is important justice-involved Veterans are familiar with VA benefits including what VA benefits they may still (be) eligible to receive, what happens to the VA benefits they are already receiving if they become incarcerated, and what programs are available to assist them with reintegrating back into the community once released from incarceration.”
Remember that felony? So, let’s say a Marine veteran is convicted of a felony in regards to this scandal. What will happen to their benefits? The VA webpage breaks it down. First, disability benefits are cut in half:
“VA disability compensation payments are reduced if a Veteran is convicted of a felony and imprisoned for more than 60 days. Veterans rated 20 percent or more are limited to the 10 percent disability rate. For a Veteran whose disability rating is 10 percent, the payment is reduced by one-half. Once a Veteran is released from prison, compensation payments may be reinstated based upon the severity of the service connected disability(ies) at that time. Payments are not reduced for recipients participating in work release programs, residing in halfway houses (also known as “residential re-entry centers”), or under community control. The amount of any increased compensation awarded to an incarcerated Veteran that results from other than a statutory rate increase may be subject to reduction due to incarceration.”
Next, if you are retired from your service and draw a pension. They take that too:
“Veterans in receipt of VA pension will have payments terminated effective the 61st day after imprisonment in a Federal, State, or local penal institution for conviction of a felony or misdemeanor. Payments may be resumed upon release from prison if the Veteran meets VA eligibility requirements. Failure to notify VA of a Veteran’s incarceration could result in the loss of all financial benefits until the overpayment is recovered.”
What about that post 9/11 GI Bill or other educational benefits some of these veterans may also be drawing? The VA also has that covered:
“Claimants incarcerated for a felony conviction can be paid only the costs of tuition, fees, and necessary books, equipment, and supplies. VA cannot make payments for tuition, fees, books, equipment, or supplies if another Federal State or local program pays these costs in full.”
This scandal should be a serious wake up call for both active and veteran service members across the entire military. The active duty personnel will face UCMJ, that is fact. Yet, veterans need to let this sink in and sink in deep. Being a veteran doesn’t make you above the law. You defended the rights of this country in your time in the service. Now is the time to show the Americans you were charged to protect that you are capable of doing the hard right versus the easy wrong.
Feature image courtesy of ABC News