Veterans Joining the Ukrainian Army Could Lose Benefits and US Citizenship

Veterans Joining the Ukrainian Army Could Lose Benefits and US Citizenship

As the Russian military has been invading Afghanistan since Feb. 24, there has been a steady stream of footage of heartbreaking mass atrocities. The world has been dumbfounded by the footage. The world won't see anything like this coming out of Europe since the tragic collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

American combatants who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan have been plagued with insomnia due to the ongoing atrocities. The call from Ukrainian officials for foreign fighters to join their newly formed foreign legion has drawn many veterans from the U.S. to join the fight.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has lifted temporarily the visa ban on foreign fighters and has taken to social media to actively encourage all of those who possess military experience and training to join his countrymen in fighting the Russian invasion.

I'm wondering if joining a foreign army means losing my veteran benefits? Sad to say, the answer is yes.

It's in the constitution that retired military can't participate. The relevant provision is spelled out in Article I, Section 9, Clause 8. This clause prevents any federal employee "holding any office of profit or trust" from accepting any gift, emolument, office or title from any king, prince or foreign state without the consent of Congress.

Emoluments Clause prohibits retired military personnel, including officers, enlisted personnel, and Reserves, from receiving payments from foreign governments without Congress' consent. 37 U.S.C. 908 gives consent, arguably, to the military branches since it delegated approval to them and requires the secretary of state and their respective service secretaries to approve anything imported from foreign countries.

In addition to veterans of the United States military, veterans of other countries engaged in any other armed conflict in the world might also be subject to this limitation.

Ukraine has said it won't compensate Americans who join its foreign legion, but that could change.

The ability to receive retirement benefits from the government of the United States is also contingent on maintaining citizenship and being recalled in case of a national emergency. In some cases, fighting for a foreign government can lead to loss of citizenship.

As well, the Department of Defense may suspend retirement pay to the extent that a foreign salary was earned or obtained as a result of fighting for a foreign government, such as Ukraine's. Ex-military members who want to get permission from their service secretary should contact either the Air Force Personnel Command, the Army Human Resources Command, the Navy Personnel Command, or the Judge Advocates Division of Marine Corps Headquarters.

Legislation could be passed to make an exception to the military retired personnel and veterans from participation in active foreign armed conflict to encourage American military veterans to participate in the fight in Ukraine; however, the prospect that American combat veterans could kill Russian soldiers could be viewed as an escalation of the existing conflict and could result in actual war with Russia.

Also, veteran combatants will face significant security clearance issues as well as other potential legal problems. Ukraine may be the country of choice, but a consideration must be made of whether they will lose their ability to provide for themselves and their families in America. Veterans should think carefully about risking their retirement benefits and seek permission.