DURING SOMOS CONFERENCE, SENATOR GILLIBRAND, DEPUTY VA SECRETARY BRADSHER, GOVERNOR PIERLUISI, GOVERNOR HOCHUL URGE PUERTO RICAN VETERANS EXPOSED TO BURN PITS, OTHER TOXINS TO FILE FOR PACT ACT BENEFITS
So Far, More Than 7,000 Veterans Living in Puerto Rico Have Filed Claims; Thousands More Are Potentially Eligible For Benefits
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Deputy Veterans Affair Secretary Tanya Bradsher, Governor Pedro Pierluisi, Governor Kathy Hochul, and veterans advocates stood at The American Legion in San Juan urging veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances during their service to apply for health benefits through the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our PACT Act of 2022. The PACT Act provides expanded health care and benefits to veterans suffering from illness caused by exposure to burn pits and other toxic substances while serving abroad. These burn pits-related medical conditions are presumptively service-connected, meaning that veterans no longer have to provide proof that their disease is service-related in order to receive benefits. During the press conference, Senator Gillibrand shared resources to help veterans and survivors submit a successful application to receive benefits. She was also joined by Congressional Hispanic Chair Nanette Díaz Barragán, Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force Chair Karines Reyes, Veteran and Commander of The American Legion – Department of Puerto Rico Carmen I. Rosario, Veteran and President of Vietnam Veterans of America Puerto Rico State Council Jorge Pedroza, Veteran and Wounded Warrior Project Outreach Specialist Kat Pabon-Beauchamp, and President and CEO of the Hispanic Federation Frankie Miranda.
“The PACT Act has already helped over half a million veterans nationwide get life changing health care and disability benefits, but thousands more have yet to apply,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I’m thrilled to stand here with so many of my colleagues and Puerto Rico’s great leaders to urge veterans living on the island to apply for PACT Act benefits. As always, my office is here to answer questions and to help with the application process.”
“Nearly 3,000 veterans in Puerto Rico have received benefits thanks to the PACT Act and we estimate that there are many others who still qualify. That is why they need to apply and register with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. This way they can receive evidence of insight, treatment and support if they were exposed to toxins from military burn pits, Agent Orange and other toxic substances. This is about being there for our veterans, who were there for us in defense of freedom and democracy. As a Nation we have to give them all the support and attention they need because they earned it with their service. “I reiterate my commitment and that of my administration to our military and veterans,” said Governor Pierluisi.
“As we observe Veterans Day this year, it’s critical we recognize the heroism and sacrifice of those who have served our country. Nearly 700,000 veterans call New York home and we have a moral obligation to treat them with the dignity they deserve. Thanks to leadership from President Biden, Senator Gillibrand and our delegation in Congress, the PACT Act is providing much-needed benefits to veterans across the United States and I join these leaders to urge eligible veterans to participate in this initiative,” said Governor Kathy Hochul.
“The American Legion is thankful for all the efforts by every organization to get Pact Act Bill approved to better serve our Veteran Community. I would love to remind each and every Veteran of all Era’s to join the efforts that the VA Hospital and the service officers are helping with to ensure all our Veterans get a better quality of life and A+ care that they deserve. It will be a group effort, and we must join together to accomplish this,” said Carmen Rosario, Commander for The American Legion, Department of Puerto Rico.
“The PACT Act is the largest expansion of Veteran benefits in decades, and its importance to the physical well-being of toxin-exposed service members can not be understated” said Rep. Nanette Barragán, Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “Now Veterans who have been exposed to toxic substances have additional access to the resources and health care they need, earned, and deserve. I’m thankful to U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Rep. Mark Takano (CA-39), and CHC’s very own Rep. Raul Ruiz (CA-25) for their leadership in making the PACT Act the law of the land.”
“I applaud Senator Gillibrand and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for their work to extend these critical benefits to our bravest among us, our nation’s veterans,” said Assembly Member and chair of the NYS Assembly & Senate Puerto Rican / Hispanic Task Force, Karines Reyes, R.N. “As a health professional, I know, all too well, how the delays in treatment and access to coverage negatively impact health outcomes. In 2019, I passed similar legislation to expand a presumption of disability for firefighters to receive enhanced benefits for 9/11 related illnesses. I am proud to support our federal officials in encouraging veterans, in New York and Puerto Rico, to apply for this important benefit.”
“Our veterans have served our country and made sacrifices to protect and defend our families. With Senator Gillibrand’s PACT Act, we’re honoring many of those service members by ensuring that they have access to health care and other benefits that they have earned. I encourage all veterans residing in Puerto Rico to learn more about this benefit and how it can help you receive the care that you deserve,” said Frankie Miranda, President and CEO of Hispanic Federation. “Our work will not stop here. Hispanic Federation will fight alongside Senator Gillibrand to expand other benefits for Puerto Rico, including ending nutrition assistance inequalities by finally transitioning the archipelago to SNAP. It’s the only way we can continue to uplift families and individuals in Puerto Rico.”
“Through the PACT Act, millions of post-9/11 veterans now have access to important benefits related to toxic exposure and overall healthcare, but they may not be aware of them,” said Jose Ramos, vice president of government and community relations for Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP). “WWP has worked nonstop to raise awareness and education about these benefits within the veteran community. We urge all veterans to start the process, especially signing up for VA healthcare, even if you think you don’t need it now. Because you never know when you will, and your family and caregivers will thank you for it.”
“For Paralyzed Veterans of America thanks to the Pact Act, we have filed more claims from those affected with presumptive conditions related to Agent Orange, burn pit, and cancer, and this has facilitated the process for VA to carry out a more exhaustive review of expenses, achieving more opportunities to maximize the scope of more benefits. for veterans, families, and their survivors,” said Ruben Sierra, President Paralyzed Veterans of America PR Chapter.
“Vietnam Veterans of America in Puerto Rico will ensure to keep working to get our community the benefits and services brought forward by the PACT Act so that every Veteran gets the service they are entitled to. We want to make sure that we let Veterans or Service Member know that if they were rejected in the past that they resubmit their claim since they may qualify under the PACT Act, so we urge you to go to VA Caribbean Health Care System better known as VA Hospital or to any of our VSO Offices to ensure they are registered and receive a better quality of life. We desire to also reach the family members that may qualify for the PACT Act,” said Jorge Pedroza, President of Vietnam Veterans of America Puerto Rico State Council.
Veterans can apply for PACT Act benefits at www.va.gov/. If their claim was previously denied, but their condition is now considered presumptive, they can file a Supplemental Claim online or by mail. A full list of presumptive conditions and locations is available here.
Veterans who need help with their applications can call the VA’s 24/7 helpline at 800-698-2411, reach out to their local Veterans Service Organization (VSO), or contact Senator Gillibrand’s office at [email protected].
Senator Gillibrand was a leading champion of the PACT Act. Her bill, the Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act, forms the centerpiece of the legislation.
GILLIBRAND ANNOUNCES $440 MILLION IN FEDERAL FUNDING TO SUPPORT SOLAR ENERGY IN PUERTO RICO
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced a $440 million investment by the Department of Energy to install solar panels and battery storage systems for 30,000-40,000 low-income households in Puerto Rico. This funding was allocated through the department’s Puerto Rico Energy Resilience Fund (PR-ERF) and will also support thousands of clean energy jobs, improve the island’s grid resiliency and reliability against future disasters, and help achieve Puerto Rico’s goal of 100% renewable energy by 2050.
“Investing in solar energy provides reliable power to Puerto Rico’s most vulnerable communities all while creating local, good-paying jobs,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This investment will help ensure economic development and sustainable energy initiatives are made available to Puerto Rico’s most vulnerable communities and households, while working toward 100% renewable energy. I applaud DOE’s critical investment and I will continue fighting for resources that ensure all communities receive the energy they need.”
On November 15, 2022, Senator Gillibrand co-led a letter asking that Congress provide $5 billion to DOE through emergency supplemental appropriations to provide rooftop solar and battery storage systems for low-income households and households with individuals with disabilities throughout Puerto Rico. She secured $1 billion in the FY23 appropriations bill to help launch PR-ERF.
Banner Image: Puerto Rico. Image Credit – Alex George