Bill introduced to ensure VA education materials are available for Spanish-speaking veterans

Cover Image
Photo credit Getty Images

Currently, 7% of the veteran population is Hispanic. Pew Research Center predicts that number to grow to 13 percent in the near future. Which is why it was shocking to the House Committee on Veteran’s Affairs Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif. when he visited the VA facility in Puerto Rico to find a lack of Spanish language reading materials available to veterans. 

“Help is only available at the VA in Puerto Rico if you understand English,” said Takano.

Takano points out if you are unable to provide Latino veterans with an explanation of their benefits in Spanish, there is a possibility that they will lose out on GI Bill benefits, VA home loans or healthcare programs.

“I was shocked to learn that key letters, fact sheets and employee training modules developed to educate veterans on the MISSION Act were only produced and mailed to veterans in English,” said Takano. "This means veterans and hospital employees were not notified about the upcoming changes with the MISSION Act and employees were not prepared to implement the law on June 6.”

In addition to educational materials, Takano mentioned his staff attempted to call the Veterans Crisis Line and found not only did the operator speak only English, but on several occasions, no one answered the phone at all. The crisis line is said to be manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week for veterans who are contemplating suicide.

As a result, he announced the introduction of H.R. 2943. Sponsored by Rep. Gilbert Ray Cisneros D-Calif., the bill would direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to ensure all facts sheets provided by VA are available in both English and Spanish.

A VA official said, "Speaking, reading and writing English fluently is a requirement to serve in the U.S. military, so veterans’ competency with English is a given." The VA currently offers booklets on the VA MISSION Act in Spanish. 

In an effort to combat the language accessibility barrier particularly at the Puerto Rico VA, hospital staff translated and produced their own Spanish-language materials, according to Takano.  He also called the facts sheets initially provided by a third-party vendor, “poor” and “inaccurate.”

In both his opening and closing remarks, Takano spoke in Spanish saying, "No es suficiente que el Departamento de Veteranos ya tenga una regla en vigor,” which translates to, “It's not enough that the Department of Veteran Affairs already has a rule in place.”

Want to get more connected to the great stories and resources Connecting Vets has to offer? Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter.