US veterans with limited English skills will soon have access to information about federal benefits, championed by Representative Young Kim, R-La Habra, after President Joe Biden signed it into law this week.
The Veterans and Family Information Act, or HR 2093, instructs the Department of Veterans Affairs to translate all of its factsheets into Spanish, Tagalog and 10 other common languages. Those translations should also be posted on the VA’s website.
Kim said she hopes the new law means her caretakers with experienced and limited English proficiency won’t have to rely on others to help them understand and access VA benefits they’ve earned.
Kim, whose 39th district includes parts of Orange, “My district has more than 27,000 veterans of diverse backgrounds who faithfully served in the United States military, including my own sister, brother-in-law, and my husband. ” Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties told Congress, speaking in support of the bill.
“With an increasingly diverse population of veterans nationwide, and United States veterans living in the Philippines and Puerto Rico, this bill ensures that our veterans and their caretakers whose first language is not English, they know and Understand, the benefits of the VA.”
Former CA-39 Rep. Gil Cisneros, D-Yorba Linda introduced a similar bill last season requiring the VA to translate material into Spanish and Tagalong. His HR 2943 passed the House but stalled in the then GOP-controlled Senate.
Representative Hakeem Jeffries, D-New York, chose the Cisneros bill in March with Kim as the principal co-sponsor. He expanded it to include the 10 most spoken languages in America in addition to English.
The bill, which Biden signed into law on November 22, tells the VA to report back to Congress on the plan’s deployment within six months.
Nancy Montgomery, a nurse who oversees Irvine Valley College’s Veterans Resource Center, said she hopes the bill raises awareness of both the lack of language services and the lack of available data on the diverse needs of both active duty and veteran service members. Is.
It is not clear how many of our country’s 17 million veterans have limited English proficiency. Neither the Census Bureau or the VA currently tracks that data. The closest estimate comes from a 2019 analysis by the Migration Policy Institute, which showed that some 13%, or 2.4 million elderly, are either born abroad or are children of immigrants. Within that population, about 20%, or about 500,000 people, profess limited English skills.
Still, while visiting VA facilities in West Los Angeles, Montgomery said he saw very few interpretation services available on staff or diverse language speakers, including VA benefits for former foreign interpreters.
During a House hearing on a previous iteration of the bill, Representative Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, told Congress he first spoke about the problem during a 2019 visit to Puerto Rico. Heard.
“I met veterans who told me they couldn’t find information on VA programs, and when they do get information, it’s in English, not Spanish. Said a veteran who received brochures on the Mission Act in Spanish that it was incomplete compared to the English material.
“This disparity should not exist,” Takano said. “Veterans, no matter what language they speak, or wherever they live, should be able to understand how to easily reap their benefits.”
Advocates say this may be a contributing factor to the fact that many veterans – who face disproportionate rates of everything from some forms of cancer to suicide to hearing loss – do not even have access to the benefits available to them. reaching up.
Combat Ex-Servicemen posted after 1998 can receive convalescence through the VA for five years after discharge. But federal data shows less than two-thirds of the nearly 2 million veterans who became eligible for health benefits from 2002 enrolled to receive them by 2016 because they either didn’t know they were May or may not know how. signing up.
Although Montgomery of Irvine Valley applauded Kim’s bill, he said lawmakers and the VA still needed to find better ways to connect veterans to the services available to them. For example, she supports veterans automatically enrolling for VA medical benefits upon discharge from service—an idea that never took off in Congress.
“They can capture and publish this amazing information in 50 different languages,” Montgomery said. “The problem is that the information still won’t reach the veterans who are out there until they do outreach.”