The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

July 2004
Veterans Benefits COMMITTEE REPORT

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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 Committee’s attention.


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