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HomeNewsArchivesV.I. Vets Say Relying on Puerto Rico Medical Care a Hardship

V.I. Vets Say Relying on Puerto Rico Medical Care a Hardship

Spanish language forms, travel costs and the perception of substandard treatment by the U.S. Veterans Administration in Puerto Rico put veterans living in the territory at a disadvantage to Puerto Rican and stateside veterans, a Senate committee heard from veterans and veterans advocates.

"U.S. Virgin Islands veterans are not given the same treatment in Puerto Rico," according to American Legion Post 102 Commander Annie Day Henry, who spoke to the Health, Hospitals and Human Services Committee on Wednesday.

Because V.I. veterans are traveling to Puerto Rico for care, they get a slip to give them preferential treatment, but VA officials in Puerto Rico "may not acknowledge them and we wait for hours," Henry said.

"There are language barriers too, especially with written communication in Spanish," she said. "A week ago I received information about my health care from Puerto Rico that was in Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish," she elaborated.

According to Henry, federal regulations require communication to be in English, with forms in other languages also available if there are high numbers of clients with limited English ability.

Appointments take a long time to arrange and patients in the U.S. Virgin Islands are not always given timely notice, Henry said, saying she recently waited more than three months for an appointment.

Commander Hillis Benjamin of American Legion Post no. 90 testified that the lack of VA medical facilities in the territory increases costs and reduces the services available to local veterans as compared to stateside ones.

These difficulties and disadvantages have plagued V.I. veterans for years and little has been done, Henry and Benjamin said.

Sandra Benjamin, coordinator for V.I. Survivor Outreach Services, a U.S. Army program for spouses and family of deceased veterans, also said she had heard many veterans and family members of veterans complain of being ignored in Puerto Rico, of alleged discrimination in favor of Spanish speakers and of language barriers.

Benjamin asked the senators to work with the territory’s delegate to Congress to try to get at least one full-time veterans medical practitioner in each district to reduce reliance on Puerto Rico.

Sen. Sammuel Sanes said that while he could personally speak Spanish, it was unfair to those who could not to have to translate health care documents. And as a veteran himself, he agreed having to travel to Puerto Rico to get VA care was a substantial hardship.

At the same time, Sanes acknowledged that most of the problems were matters for the federal government and may not call for V.I. legislation.

Sanes said the Legislature will send a letter to Delegate Donna M. Christensen and the U.S. Veterans Administration concerning the complaints of VA sending communications in Spanish.

"It is bad enough we have to travel over there but it is even worse we have to translate," he said.

No votes were taken at the information gathering hearing. Present were Sanes, Sens. Craig Barshinger, Clarence Payne, Kenneth Gittens and Tregenza Roach. Noncommittee members Sens. Terrence "Positive" Nelson and Myron Jackson also attended. Sens. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly and Judi Buckley were absent.

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