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Senator Celestino A. White, Sr. has written to the Secretary of the United States Veterans Affairs, R. James Nicholson, expressing his displeasure over the manner in which veterans in the Territory are receiving benefits and health care services.
On February 28th and March 1st, 2005, the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans held town meetings on St. Croix and St. Thomas to assess how well VA's programs and services meet the need of veteran who are minority. A major role of the Committee is to assist the Secretary in eliminating any barriers that may prevent some veterans from fully using their VA benefits and service.
"As Chairman, and ranking member of the Committee on Housing, Sports and Veterans Affairs and a Vietnam Veteran myself, I am appalled at the inhumane, disrespectful, insensitive and insulting manner in which Veterans of the United States Virgin Islands are being treated. It is inconceivable to believe that our servicemen and women, who made such sacrifices to protect our country, are treated in such a manner," stated Senator White.
Veterans on both islands came out in great numbers and cited a host of problems they have encountered over the years with dealing with Puerto Rico's Veterans Administration. The Virgin Islands were placed under the auspices of Puerto Rico Veterans Affairs for the purpose of administration of services and benefits for the past Forty (40) years. This subservient position, cultural difference, and language barrier has caused disparity and unequal medical and benefit services in the Territory, according to many of the Veterans who spoke at the meetings.
"I am convinced that the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans heard sufficient testimony and will make meaningful recommendations to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, which if adopted, would result in VI Veterans receiving equal and fair treatment", Senator White said.
Chief among the concerns are:
· · Unresponsive regional office
· · Long delays in processing cases
· · Additional doctors needed
· · Hearing Officer, Benefits Officer, and Homeless Officer should be permanently stationed in the Virgin Islands
· · VI Veterans budget should be separate and apart from Puerto Rico for purposes of health care and benefit administration.
· · Establish a comprehensive education campaign to better inform the VI Veterans of available benefits and services.
· · Consider the high cost of living in the VI in determining eligibility for transportation cost to Puerto Rico.
· · Discontinue using both spouses income when determine eligibility; and, a host of other issues.
"I have asked the Honorable Secretary to conduct a full investigation of the disparity of services and health care benefits to determine if retroactive benefits is required as result of years of unequal treatment," concluded Senator White.