U.S. veterans with limited English skills will soon have better access to information about federal benefits owed to them, after President Joe Biden signed into law a bipartisan bill this week championed by Rep. Young Kim, R-La Habra.
The Veterans and Family Information Act, or HR 2093, directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to translate all of its information sheets into Spanish, Tagalog and 10 other common languages. These translations must also be published on the VA website.
Kim said she hopes the new law will mean that veterans and their caregivers with limited English proficiency won’t have to continue to rely on others to help them understand and access the VA benefits that ‘they won.
“My district is home to more than 27,000 veterans from diverse backgrounds who faithfully served in the U.S. military, including my own sister, brother-in-law and husband as well,” Kim, whose 39th district includes parts of ‘Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties told Congress while speaking in support of the bill.
“With an increasingly diverse veteran population across the country and American veterans residing in the Philippines and Puerto Rico, this bill ensures that our veterans and their caregivers whose first language is not English know and understand the benefits of VA.
Former CA-39 Representative Gil Cisneros, D-Yorba Linda, introduced a similar bill last session that required the AV to translate documents into Spanish and Tagalong. His HR 2943 passed the House but stalled in the then GOP-controlled Senate.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-New York, took over the Cisneros bill in March with Kim as the lead co-sponsor. They expanded it to include the 10 most spoken languages in the United States other than English.
The bill, which Biden signed Nov. 22, requires the VA to report to Congress on the rollout of that plan within six months.
Nancy Montgomery, a nurse who oversees the Veteran Resource Center at Irvine Valley College, said she hopes this bill will raise awareness of both the lack of language services and the lack of data available on the diverse needs of members. active duty and veterans.
It’s unclear how many of our nation’s 17 million veterans have limited English proficiency. Neither the Census Bureau nor the VA currently tracks this data. The closest estimates come from a 2019 analysis by the Migration Policy Institute, which reported that about 13%, or 2.4 million veterans, were either foreign-born or children of immigrants. . Within this population, about 20%, or nearly 500,000 people, recognize limited English skills.
Yet while touring VA facilities in West Los Angeles, Montgomery said he noticed very few interpreting services or diverse language speakers available on staff, including for former foreign interpreters who are eligible for VA benefits.
During a House hearing on the previous version of that bill, Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, told Congress he had heard of the first-hand issue during a 2019 trip to Puerto Rico.
“I’ve met veterans who have told me they don’t get information about VA programs, and when they do get information, it’s in English, not Spanish. The only veteran who has received brochure on MISSION law in Spanish said it was incomplete compared to English documents.
“This disparity should not exist,” Takano said. “Veterans, no matter what language they speak or where they live, should be able to figure out how to easily access their benefits.”
Supporters say it could be a contributing factor that many veterans — who face disproportionate rates of everything from certain forms of cancer to suicide to hearing loss — don’t have access to the benefits that are offered to them.
Veterans deployed after 1998 can access health care benefits through the VA for five years after release. But federal data shows that less than two-thirds of the nearly 2 million veterans who had become eligible for health care benefits since 2002 had signed up to receive them in 2016 because they didn’t know they were. could or did not know how to go about it. register.
Although Irvine Valley’s Montgomery applauded Kim’s bill, she said lawmakers and the VA still need to find better ways to connect veterans to the services available to them. She supports, for example, automatically enrolling veterans in VA medical benefits when they are discharged from service — an idea that never saw the light of day in Congress.
“They can post and publish all of this wonderful information in 50 different languages,” Montgomery said. “The problem is that the information still won’t get to the veterans out there until they do the outreach.”