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March/April 2024 -   -  

The Long Fight for Answers in Puerto Rico  


When the nation needed young men and women to populate the military during the Vietnam War it had that need answered in the territorial island of Puerto Rico. Indeed, many Puerto Ricans, driven by patriotism and economic necessity, were conscripted or volunteered to serve in the military during the Vietnam War and after.

Their language barrier presented educational challenges, and a disproportionate percentage of inductees from Puerto Rico ended up in the combat and other high-risk elements of the military. In those hazardous jobs, their exposures and experiences were significantly more dangerous than those of the average enlistee.

For that reason and more, VVA has long felt an obligation to champion the rights and benefits of Vietnam War veterans in Puerto Rico. Because they live in a U.S. territory, Puerto Rican veterans unfortunately do not have the same rights and representation as do their peers who live in the 50 states.

Indeed, Vietnam War veterans living in Puerto Rico still remember the days when the then Veterans Administration capriciously slashed benefits to thousands of disabled Vietnam War veterans on the island in the 1990s. They also remember that VVA’s Legal Services Program hauled the VA into federal court to right that wrong. We successfully had the benefits restored in the landmark 1993 Guisti-Bravo v. U.S. Veterans Administration class action lawsuit.

We are hopeful that having the head of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, Jaime Soto, come face-to-face with the veterans of Puerto Rico at the January 30 VVA-sponsored town hall meeting in San Juan will be just as important and meaningful an event in Puerto Rican veterans’ history. Mokie Porter addresses the origins and execution of this first-ever confab in her article here.

A decision was recently made to outsource the contract for the entire Claims Appellant Section of VVA’s Veterans Benefits Department to our long-term legal appeals partner, Bergmann & Moore. Our overriding motivation is to improve the quality and timeliness of claims representation services that we provide to veterans. This is a specialized area of law that requires expertise and skill beyond VVA’s legal capabilities.

We have seen progress with changing the name of the West Palm Beach, Florida, VA Medical Center to honor VVA’s former President Tom Corey. The entire Florida U.S. House of Representatives delegation signed on to sponsor HR 3777, introduced by Rep. Brian Mast (R-Florida) and the state’s two senators introduced companion bill S3822. It will be a tribute to the entire VVA membership when this gets done. It is our intent to push Congress to get this done and also pray with you all




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Geoffrey Clifford Mark F. Erickson Chuck Forsman