September 20, 2019

Chairman Takano: “We Cannot Leave These Veterans Behind”

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, two years after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) continued to call on VA to strengthen disaster preparedness and emergency response efforts and guarantee that no veteran is left without a plan in the event of a natural disaster. 

VA has a responsibility to ensure they care for the more than 90,000 veterans who live on these islands during a natural disaster. But in the months following Hurricane Maria, many veterans were left without power for key medical devices, limited access to water, and lasting damage to their homes. 

“This summer, I met with an 88-year-old Korean War veteran named Pedro, in an American Legion Post, who was patiently waiting to see me with paperwork in hand and ask for my help,” said Chairman Mark Takano. “Nearly two years after Hurricane Maria, he still lives with a blue tarp for a roof despite asking for assistance. 

“Our requests for clarification- how an 88-year-old veteran, and survivor of the deadliest natural disaster in American history could be living under a plastic tarp in his own home for two years- have gone unanswered. 

“My plea, on this second anniversary of Hurricane Maria, is that you work together to better and more fully serve heroes like Pedro. We cannot ignore the 90,000 veterans who live on these islands. If there are geographic or language barriers, we must overcome them. Leaving these veterans behind should not be an option." 

Full text of the letter below:

September 19, 2019

The Honorable Robert Wilkie

Secretary

Department of Veterans Affairs

810 Vermont Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20420

 

The Honorable Peter T. Gaynor

Acting Administrator

Federal Emergency Management Agency

500 C St, SW

Washington, DC 20472

 

Dear Mr. Secretary and Acting Administrator Gaynor:

 

On July 20, 2019, at a veterans’ listening session in Guayama, Puerto Rico, I met with an 88-year-old Korean War veteran named Pedro. He had come to seek assistance for home repairs. Nearly two years after Hurricane Maria, he still lives with a blue tarp for a roof.

After the disaster, Pedro filed a claim with FEMA to repair damages. In addition to the destroyed roof, the winds damaged his windows and door, and the rain was able to enter and damage his stove. The estimate for total repairs was $1,365.18. FEMA awarded Pedro $574.14 to rebuild his home. Because of the conditions of his age, he is unable to work, and has no means of getting the additional $791.04 to build a roof. Pedro appealed FEMA’s decision, further explaining that the $574.14 was not enough to make his home livable. Ten months later, he was denied again.  

Nearly a year later I met him, in an American Legion Post, paperwork in hand, patiently waiting to share with me to see if I could help. My staff took his information and in the two months since returning to Washington, DC, we have repeatedly engaged both FEMA and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Our requests for clarification- how an 88-year-old veteran, and survivor of the deadliest natural disaster in American history could be living under a plastic tarp in his own home for two years- have gone unanswered. Upon speculation of this letter, VA’s Office of Legislative Affairs finally responded on September 11, saying he is not eligible for any homeless services as he often stays with family. Likewise, FEMA’s congressional affairs, on September 17, a month after the first inquiry to the agency, says they can’t comment due to privacy.

I ask that VA provide a detailed explanation for why Pedro is not eligible for assistance through the myriad of housing assistance programs. And I request that FEMA provide explanation for why $574 is a suitable amount to finance a new roof. And upon arranging for a privacy waiver to be brought to Pedro and sent back to my office, I ask that his case be reconsidered. It cannot be that there is nothing either of your offices can do.

The scale of an event like Hurricane Maria, and the pull it had on the resources of your agencies is not lost on me. But it has been two years. And in testimony before Congress and visits to Puerto Rico, your leadership has declared there are enough resources to aid America’s veterans and families should disaster strike again.

My plea, on this second anniversary of one of the most devastating events endured by our country, is that you work together to better and more fully serve heroes like Pedro. No American, especially our veterans, should be living under plastic sheets.

Pedro will turn 89 next month. My expectation is that this government can see to it he is safe in his home in time to celebrate.

 

Sincerely,

  

Mark Takano

Chairman

###

Press Contact

Jenni Geurink (202-225-9756)

Miguel R. Salazar