Bill would require Spanish translations on all VA fact sheets

news
The GI Bill, Explained

Editor's Note: This article by Patricia Kime originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Addressing an audience at a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing Thursday in Spanish, Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Takano, D-California, pressed for legislation that would require all VA fact sheets to be published in English and Spanish. A bill sponsored by Rep. Gil Cisneros, D-California, would do that.


Takano, whose Riverside area district is 60% Hispanic, said he is concerned that the fact sheets and training modules for the Mission Act, the legislation that introduced new urgent and community care programs for veterans earlier this month, were only printed in English.

This caused a delay in implementation of the act in Puerto Rico, as employees needed to translate and reproduce the materials on their own when a contracted firm's translations proved inadequate.

Takano also noted that another vital service, the Veterans Crisis Line, which provides help to veterans struggling with mental health issues and thoughts of suicide, operates only in English. And while the VA Medical Center in Puerto Rico has established its own local crisis line in Spanish, the line did not answer when Takano tried to call it.

"Think about that for a moment: help is only available at the VA if you understand English," Takano said.

Rep. Mark Takano of California's 41st congressional district, right, talks to 163d Attack Wing Vice Commander Col. Keith Ward, second from right, while touring the wing's new Hap Arnold Center Feb. 23, 2017 at March Air Reserve Base, California. (Air National Guard photo/Crystal Housman)

Rep. Mark Takano of California's 41st congressional district, right, talks to 163d Attack Wing Vice Commander Col. Keith Ward, second from right, while touring the wing's new Hap Arnold Center Feb. 23, 2017 at March Air Reserve Base, California. (Air National Guard photo/Crystal Housman)

Speaking, reading and writing English fluently is a requirement to serve in the U.S. military. But with the veteran population expected to rise from 7% to 11.2% of the total U.S. population in the next 20 years, Takano said failing to provide veterans with "clear explanations of their benefits in Spanish" meant they would miss out on crucial benefits available to them, such as the GI Bill, VA home loans or health care.

Related Content: Major VA Change Info Coming to Your Mailbox

"No es sufficiente que el Departamento de Veteranos ya tenga una regla en vigor. Nosotros, como miembros de esta cara legislativa," Takano said.

That's roughly translated as, "It's not enough that this is a VA regulation; we must make this the law."

A department official said VA agrees language should not be a barrier to services and it already publishes many forms in both English and Spanish, including enrollment forms and annual benefits guide.

VA is also implementing a language access plan that is more comprehensive than the legislation currently being considered, said Larry Mole, VA's chief consultant for population health services.

The VA's program includes maintaining a Language Access Working Group responsible for implementing a language access plan across VA facilities. The goal, according to the plan, is for personnel at VA facilities to identify veterans, caregivers and their advocates who have limited English proficiency and ensure they have access to translators, translations and other language services.

"Given the breadth and complexity of the VA [language] program, VA favors this more systematic and flexible approach, as opposed to a statutory mandate for one form of document," Mole said.

He assured Takano that VA would look into the issues of VA Mission Act implementation and the Veterans Crisis Line in Puerto Rico.

According to VA, veterans who feel they have not received appropriate language assistance or were denied help can call the VA's External Complaints Program at (888) 566-3942.

This article originally appeared on Military.com

More articles from Military.com:

SEE NEXT: After the VA missed a spine-eating infection, a loophole kept him from suing. A new bill would change that for other vets

WATCH ALSO: Once Political Foes, These Vets Groups Are Teaming Up To End The 'Forever Wars'

U.S. Army Astronaut Lt. Col. Anne McClain is captured in this photo during a media opportunity while serving as backup crew for NASA Expedition 56 to the International Space Station May, 2018, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. (NASA photo)

NASA is reportedly investigating one of its astronauts in a case that appears to involve the first allegations of criminal activity from space.

Read More Show Less
New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen of the 24th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team (CST) and 106th Rescue Wing prepare to identify and classify several hazardous chemical and biological materials during a collective training event at the Plum Island Animal Disease Research Facility, New York, May 2, 2018. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Harley Jelis)

The Department of Homeland Security stored sensitive data from the nation's bioterrorism defense program on an insecure website where it was vulnerable to attacks by hackers for over a decade, according to government documents reviewed by The Los Angeles Times.

The data included the locations of at least some BioWatch air samplers, which are installed at subway stations and other public locations in more than 30 U.S. cities and are designed to detect anthrax or other airborne biological weapons, Homeland Security officials confirmed. It also included the results of tests for possible pathogens, a list of biological agents that could be detected and response plans that would be put in place in the event of an attack.

The information — housed on a dot-org website run by a private contractor — has been moved behind a secure federal government firewall, and the website was shut down in May. But Homeland Security officials acknowledge they do not know whether hackers ever gained access to the data.

Read More Show Less
A U.S. Marine with Task Force Southwest observes Afghan National Army (ANA) 215th Corps soldiers move to the rally point to begin their training during a live-fire range at Camp Shorabak. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Luke Hoogendam)

By law, the United States is required to promote "human rights and fundamental freedoms" when it trains foreign militaries. So it makes sense that if the U.S. government is going to spend billions on foreign security assistance every year, it should probably systematically track whether that human rights training is actually having an impact or not, right?

Apparently not. According to a new audit from the Government Accountability Office, both the Departments of Defense and State "have not assessed the effectiveness of human rights training for foreign security forces" — and while the Pentagon agreed to establish a process to do so, State simply can't be bothered.

Read More Show Less
The Topeka Veterans Affairs Medical Center (Public domain)

The Kansas City VA Medical Center is still dealing with the fallout of a violent confrontation last year between one of its police officers and a patient, with the Kansas City Police Department launching a homicide investigation.

And now Topeka's VA hospital is dealing with an internal dispute between leaders of its Veterans Affairs police force that raises new questions about how the agency nationwide treats patients — and the officers who report misconduct by colleagues.

Read More Show Less
Jeannine Willard (Valencia County Detention Center)

A New Mexico woman was charged Friday in the robbery and homicide of a Marine Corps veteran from Belen late last month after allegedly watching her boyfriend kill the man and torch his car to hide evidence.

Read More Show Less