Every once in a while, something
that seems insignificant to the members of the federal
bureaucracy mushrooms into a more complex problem that spirals
out of their control. Such a situation occurred during the VVA
National Board meeting in April.
The Minority Affairs Committee and the State President of the
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico brought a benefits problem to the
attention of the Benefits Committee. The issue was a potential
cutoff of benefits for veterans and dependents of veterans who
live in Puerto Rico.
We decided to arrange a meeting between the Under Secretary of
Veterans Affairs for Veterans Benefits and members of the
Minority Affairs and Veterans Benefits Committees to discuss a
letter sent by the VA to thousands of veterans and dependents
in Puerto Rico.
On April 20, the VA delegation met with the Director of the VA
Compensation and Pension Service. We learned that the VA had
sent out the letter on two separate occasions, both times in
English. Thousands of veterans and dependents did not respond
to a VA inquiry initiated by the Inspector General. Nor could
we determine the rationale for the investigation. Earlier, the
VA had started a similar investigation to gather beneficiary
information from veterans and dependents in the Philippines.
The following day, VVA conducted its annual lobbying on
Capitol Hill to discuss mandatory funding of VA health care.
Our lunch hour was spent with the staff of the House Veterans’
Affairs Committee. Jorge Pedroza, the state president of
Puerto Rico, asked the staff of the Veterans’ Affairs
Committee about the issue we had discussed with the Director
of the Compensation Service--the potential cutoff of benefits
to thousands of veterans and dependents in Puerto Rico.
VVA's actions resulted in a quick reaction from the VA. The
next day, we learned that the Director of the Compensation
Service had been removed from his position. Once again, VVA
made a difference on an issue of importance to our membership
and the broader veterans community. We will also insure that
the VA follows through to correct the problems in Puerto Rico.
A letter is being sent in Spanish to all affected parties to
inform them of the importance of responding to VA letters. A
hold was put on the cutoff of benefits, and a VA team will
monitor the situation in Puerto Rico.
VVA is considering filing a Freedom of Information Act request
to determine the basis for the Inspector General’s
investigation. The members of the Minority Affairs Committee,
especially Jorge Pedroza and Francisco Ivarra, deserve thanks
for bringing this important issue to the Veterans Benefits