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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, July 14, 2024


March 19, 2001 – For the first time, Virgin Islands veterans have direct representation in Washington without having to go through Puerto Rico.
U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi has designated Bruce Nitsche as his department's liaison to the Virgin Islands, Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel said Monday
Historically, the territory has been paired with Puerto Rico for veterans' matters. Until now, the U.S. Office of Veterans Affairs has "never really paid much attention to us," Shanika Garnett, Pickard-Samuel's chief policy researcher, said. Its leadership "has seen us as just a little spot in the sea — yet, we have more than 10,000 veterans."
At the senator's behest, Principi and other Veterans Affairs officials from Washington and Puerto Rico visited the territory in January. At that time, Principi made a commitment to Pickard-Samuel, who chairs the Senate Labor and Veterans Affairs Committee, that the territory would be considered separately from Puerto Rico.
Nitsche will visit the territory in April, Garnett said, to tour facilities and meet with veterans assistance officials, Delegate Donna Christian Christensen and representatives of the local American Legion posts and other veterans service organizations.
Garnett said communications are much improved with the Washington veterans office. "I can call for anything I need now," she said. "We work very closely with that office."
She cited two procedural changes that are benefitting V.I. veterans. First, the Puerto Rico veterans benefits counselor will be visiting the territory twice a month, instead of once. Second, the Puerto Rico-based toll-free 800 telephone number for veterans has added an option for an English-speaking representative.

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