The nation’s largest veterans organization expressed concern has written to President Obama expressing concern that his executive actions on gun control may keep former troops from seeking mental health treatment.

The American Legion issued a statement Wednesday urging Obama to protect the right to gun ownership for "law-abiding veterans," and said the organization fears an "over-fix" that would bar any veteran from owning a weapon.

"The American Legion strongly believes that treatment for PTSD or depression by itself, which a number of wartime veterans experience, should not be the sole factor in denying a veteran the right to purchase a firearm," said American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett.

Among the gun control measures announced by the White House on Monday by executive order are efforts to increase access to mental health treatment and improve the background check system for gun purchases.

Specific mental health care initiatives include:

  • Investing $500 million to improve access to mental health care nationwide.
  • Allowing the Social Security Administration to start notifying the background check system about beneficiaries who are barred by law from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons.
  • Removing barriers that prevent states from "reporting relevant information about people prohibited from possessing a gun for specific mental health reasons."

Current law bars individuals from buying or possessing a gun if their mental health condition presents a danger to themselves or others or if they are unable to manage their own affairs.

Under the new orders, the Social Security Administration will report to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, NICS, the names of 75,000 people with documented mental health conditions who are unable to manage their benefits themselves or who have been found by a state or federal court to be legally incompetent.

The Health and Human Services Department also lifted restrictions that prohibited health providers from reporting information to NICS, allowing them to provide demographic and "other necessary information" to the system about individuals who are prohibited by law from possessing a gun.

Barnett said the Legion is apprehensive about some of these new requirements.

"Barring some additional circumstances that would indicate that a veteran represents a dangerous threat, veterans should not have to forfeit their Second Amendment rights," Barnett said. "Veterans have  fought to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans. The American Legion believes that the rights of these heroes deserve protection."

More than 2.7 million service members are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. A 2008 Rand Corp. report estimated that roughly 20 percent of these combat veterans have, or have had, PTSD or combat-related depression.

Patricia Kime is a senior writer covering military and veterans health care, medicine and personnel issues.

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