The Department of Veterans Affairs has proposed the formation of an Advisory Committee on United States Outlying Areas and Freely Associated States in HR 3730. 

The purpose of the committee is to provide “advice and guidance” to the VA. “Among other duties,” the bill says, “the committee must advise the VA on how to improve its programs and services to better serve veterans living in the listed areas.”

The bill currently has 17 cosponsors.

Veterans in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has a proud tradition of military service. An estimated 105,823 veterans currently live in Puerto Rico. Fewer than half use VA healthcare.

Rep. Mark Takano spoke in favor of the bill. “The best way we can honor our veterans is through action,” he announced at the website of the Veteran Affairs Committee, which he chairs.

Rep. Mike Bost of Illinois also spoke for the bill, saying,  “The combination of limited transportation options, the lack of local resources, the overlapping Federal agency jurisdictions, and the complexities around VA care in neighboring foreign nations make the territories different from the rest of the Nation and difficult to work in. Unfortunately, the challenges that the veterans in the territories face always seem to slide down to the bottom of VA’s priority list.”

In fact, veterans in Puerto Rico are eligible for 13 benefits, compared with 36 in the states. The Cent3r for a New American Security adds that information about these benefits is poorly distributed in Puerto Rico, with an inadequate website.

“Veterans in the U.S. territories are a largely forgotten and unsupported population, despite high rates of service that outpace many U.S. states. However, these veterans do not have electoral votes in presidential elections, lack voting representation in Congress, and may have to go to great lengths to receive federal veteran benefits,” they report. “Given current limitations on influencing federal policy, enhancing the provision and accessibility of benefits at the territory level is one way the territories could improve outcomes for their veterans.”

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