Reps. Cisneros, Khanna, Hurd, and Cook Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Add Spanish Language Services for Veterans and Their Survivors

March 24, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC - Representatives Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (D-CA-39), Ro Khanna (D-CA-17), Will Hurd (R-TX-23), and Paul Cook (R-CA-08) introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure transitioning servicemembers, veterans, and their survivors have prompts and options in Spanish when calling the VA’s toll-free benefits number. Rep. Cisneros is a Navy Veteran, member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Co-Chair of the Military Transition Assistance Pathways Caucus.

“The VA benefits toll-free number is a great and important resource for our veterans and their survivors,” said Rep. Cisneros. “The lack of a clear Spanish option, however, has been an obstacle for many veterans and their families trying to access and navigate their benefits. As a Navy Veteran, member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Co-Chair to the Military Transition Assistance Pathways Caucus, I’m grateful to work with Rep. Ro Khanna and my Republican colleagues to fix this issue and remove this hurdle for our veterans and their survivors.”

When a veteran or their survivor calls the VA’s toll-free number for assistance or information, initial prompts are provided in English only. It takes significant effort to seek assistance for those where Spanish is their first language given the request to seek help in Spanish is given in English. 

For many veterans and their families, Spanish is their preferred and sometimes only spoken language. Yet, the VA’s toll-free number does not facilitate easy access to information other than in English. Requiring the VA remove this hurdle and provide more options will expand access to obtaining education, housing, disability, health insurance, and death benefits for veterans and their survivors.

“An estimated 43 million Americans speak Spanish, and that number is only going to rise,” said Rep. Ro Khanna. “For many, Spanish is their preferred or only language, especially when dealing with complicated issues like veteran benefits. When our veterans and their survivors call the VA, they should be able to communicate with no difficulty. There’s no excuse for not offering these American heroes and their families every tool to claim their hard-fought benefits. Congress has an obligation to ensure that those service members and their survivors who prefer to speak in Spanish are given the same access to treatment as anyone else.”

“The VA health system provides substantial resources to our veterans and their families, but it doesn’t provide Spanish speakers with the ability to easily communicate over the phone with the VA,” said Rep. Hurd. “The Increasing Access for Veterans and their Survivors Act of 2020 would provide our veterans and their families with the ability to receive information and assistance in Spanish using the toll-free number. This legislation could alleviate a worry for many of our veterans and their Spanish-speaking loved ones. This is something small and meaningful Congress should do for the veterans who put their lives in harm’s way for our safety. I appreciate the leadership of Congressman Khanna in introducing this important legislation.”

“We need to do all we can to ensure our veterans can readily access the benefits they’ve earned,” said Rep. Cook. “This legislation will make it easier for our Spanish speaking veterans to communicate when they call the VA by ensuring they have the option to discuss complex issues in the language they understand best. I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass this legislation.”

“The nation’s veteran population is increasingly diverse, and the VA must continue working to break down barriers that may inhibit minority populations from obtaining their benefits,” said National Commander Stephen “Butch” Whitehead, Disabled American Veterans. “DAV is therefore pleased to support the Increasing Access for Veterans and Their Survivors Act, and thanks Representative Khanna for shedding much-needed light on this issue. We hope to see this bill passed quickly in order to further expand access to veterans and their families seeking earned benefits and health care” 

Bill Summary

Increasing Access for Veterans and Their Survivors Act of 2020 will require the VA benefits toll-free number to:

(1) A prompt in Spanish;

(2) The ability to direct callers to a VA employee who can speak Spanish fluently or to a translation service to work in partnership with the VA employee to provide quality support to the veteran;

(3) Provide the same quality of information and service that is offered in English.

The bill is endorsed by Disabled American Veterans (DAV). You can read the full bill text here.

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