Lawsuit: VA Stripping Benefits from J6 Defendants Pre-trial


It appears the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is targeting some J6 defendants by allegedly reducing or removing their benefits, in some cases pre-trial, which is against Department stated policy. Three J6 defendants brought their allegations to investigative journalist Breanna Morello, who then submitted FOIA requests in December 2023 on behalf of all three. They are JD (Jesus) Rivera, Hector Santos, and Kenneth Harrelson. The VA has been non-compliant with Morello's requests and is now out of compliance with its policies because it has exceeded the time to respond. The policy states the VA has twenty working days to respond to a FOIA. Morello followed up with an email to the VA on February 6; however, she says the VA has yet to answer. As such, the VA is allegedly unlawfully withholding records, prompting Morello to file a lawsuit last Thursday, February 8. Morello contacted UncoverDC on the same day of her filing.

According to the lawsuit, Morello's FOIA requested from the VA's benefits and media/communications department emails sent and received from 3/1/23-11/1/23 on behalf of the three individuals, J6 defendants, who are also veterans. To date, Morello has received no acknowledgment of her requests and no determination as to whether the VA would comply with her request. Morello seeks to understand 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. 

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." However, the VA may not withhold an individual's benefits while awaiting trial. Upon release, however, 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."


Jesus Rivera

Rivera, age 38, received word in July from the VA that the Department had reduced his VA benefits "from a 90% rate to a 10% rate effective the 61st day of confinement" following his conviction. However, Rivera had no felony conviction, only misdemeanor charges. Rivera, a cinematographer by trade, went to the Capitol on January 6 as an aspiring journalist hoping to break into the field by recording the events that day. Instead, he told Morello, "the exact opposite happened." 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.

Rivera "was convicted after a two-day bench trial of knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, knowingly engaging in disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds with intent to impede government business or official functions, engaging in disorderly or disruptive conduct on Capitol buildings or grounds, and parading, demonstrating or picketing in the Capitol building,"—all misdemeanor charges. Rivera was also enrolled without his knowledge in the Quiet Skies program, a TSA program that puts him in their suspected domestic terrorist database and affords him and anyone connected with him the dreaded Quad S on his boarding pass. With that designation, one is subjected to hours of frisking, delays, and, in some cases, missed flights and assigned multiple Air Marshals who track individuals from beginning to end of their air travel. It is arguably unconstitutional activity in cases like his. Many other J6 defendants are now on the same list, including AJ Fischer, whose infant son was also placed on the list, and veteran military pilot Bryan Smith.

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. Rivera's July letter from the VA is provided below:

While Morello never heard from the VA, her inquiries may have helped Rivera gain restitution from the VA concerning his lost benefits. Rivera received an apology letter from the VA in October 2023 stating, "the benefits were erroneously reduced because they received notification on October 13, 2023, that your incarceration from January 9 to July 9 was for a misdemeanor, not a felony. Therefore, the VA should not have adjusted your benefits for that period." The VA removed the improper adjustment and restored Rivera's benefits to the full amount for the period, per the second letter pictured below:

While purely speculative, it may be the VA is being advised by other agencies that are separate from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). You would think the BOP would be well-acquainted with the charges of its prisoners. Perhaps the FBI is also coordinating with the VA in the same way they have allegedly coordinated with TSA. The provenance of the VA's basis for reducing or removing benefits is one of many questions Morello hopes to answer with her FOIA requests. When asked why and how he thinks the VA is targeting J6ers, Rivera told UncoverDC:

"It was an obvious personal attack from within the VAThey get the same information I get as well as what the BOP gets. My case manager in the BOP was sent a letter from the VA requesting information about my incarceration. In the area where it asked if I was convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, she clearly put misdemeanor. I then sent that letter directly to my wife via USPS, and she walked it into the VA here in Pensacola." 

Hector Santos

Hector Santos' story is similar to Rivera's. He 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 the document below 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.


UncoverDC spoke with Santos, who said the VA later fixed his pay. However, he would like to know where the VA is getting their 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 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."

Ken and Angel Harrelson

Per Morello's reporting, Retired US Army veteran Ken Harrelson, now 43 years old, was one of the Oath Keepers who was sentenced to four years in prison. He was released on February 7 after spending 3 of his 4 years in prison. Harrelson is now in a halfway house. Angel says her husband is innocent and completely undeserving of having been incarcerated.

Harrelson's 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 $4000, which was remedied only after Morello reached out to the VA. "Magically, it disappeared two weeks later after," 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.

Interestingly, independent journalist Steve Baker, who is now a contributor with The Blaze, attended the entirety of the Oath Keepers trial. He says he believes video footage reviewed since January 6 proves government witnesses, specifically Special Agent Lazurus and Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, lied about the actions of the Oath Keepers, including Harrelson, all while Harrelson's wife Angel sat in court helplessly—knowing her husband was completely innocent.

Lazurus testified that Harrelson was engaged in conflict with Officer Dunn inside the Capitol. However, Capitol CCTV Camera footage proves that Harrelson was trying to prevent conflict and did not behave aggressively as accused by Lazurus. In reality, Harrelson attempted to diffuse a tense situation by putting himself between Officer Dunn and agitated protestors to prevent the situation from escalating. He never once engaged in aggressive behavior.

Lazurus allegedly lied during the trial and told jurors he witnessed an altercation between Harrelson and Dunn. However, based on CCTV timestamps, Lazurus was nowhere near Dunn and the protestors. Harrelson's story also matched with testimony from other Oath Keepers, but his evidence was never allowed to be admitted in court. Referring to Lazurus, Baker's interview in October 2023 with Kyle Seraphin reveals what he has pieced together using CCTV footage and timestamps from Capitol cameras. Baker recalled:

"We are looking at an individual who was brought in to tighten up, button up, and straighten out a conflicting narrative by this other officer, Harry Dunn. So they bring the guy [Lazurus to testify]. And so he testifies that he saw this interaction between the Oath Keepers and Harry Dunn three or four times. That's from the trial transcript. And that every time he passed him, it was a contentious engagement. But there's a problem with that [because] when you go look at the video, Special agent David Lazarus was not only not there and not only did not pass them three or four times, not only did [he] not see the interaction regardless of what the nature of that interaction was between Protestors and Harry Dunn—he was in another part of the entire complex half a mile away."

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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