New Law To Require Veterans Benefits Translated to Other Languages

New Law To Require Veterans Benefits Translated to Other Languages

President Joe Biden recently signed into law a bipartisan bill championed by Rep. Young Kim, R-La Habra that allows U.S. veterans who have limited English abilities to have access to more information about their federal benefits.

The Veterans and Family Information Act (H.R. 2093) requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to translate its factsheets into Spanish, Tagalog, and 10 other popular languages. Translations must also be posted on the VA's website.

Kim hopes the new law will allow veterans and their caretakers with limited English proficiency to be more self-sufficient in understanding and accessing their VA benefits. Representative Gil Cisneros, D-Yorba Linda, introduced a similar bill last session that mandated VA materials be translated into Spanish and Tagalog. His bill H.R. 2943 passed the House but was blocked in the then-GOP-controlled Senate.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-New York, cosponsored Cisneros' bill with Rep. Kim in March. It was expanded to include the 10 most common languages in the United States other than English.
On Nov. 22, Biden signed the bill into law, which requires the VA to report to Congress on its implementation within six months.

Nancy Montgomery, an Irvine Valley College's Veteran Resource Center nurse, said she hopes awareness will come about the absence of language services and an absence of data about the variety of needs of both veterans and active duty service members.

The exact number of the 17 million veterans who have limited English proficiency is unknown. The Census Bureau and VA do not track that information. Nearly 500,000 people in that population say they have limited English ability.

Despite this, Montgomery found very few interpretation services or diverse language speakers on staff at VA facilities in West Los Angeles, including former foreign interpreters who qualify for VA benefits.

Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, told Congress he first heard about this issue during a trip to Puerto Rico in 2019.
It is believed that this may be one reason why many veterans — who face disproportionate rates of everything from cancer to suicide to hearing loss — aren't receiving the benefits they're entitled to.
Veterans who deployed after 1998 can access healthcare benefits through the VA for five years after being discharged. The data shows that fewer than two-thirds of nearly 2 million veterans who became eligible for healthcare benefits since 2002 enrolled to receive them by 2016, either because they didn't know they could or didn't know how to do so.

While Montgomery applauded Kim's bill, she said lawmakers and the VA still need to connect veterans with services better. For example, she supports automatically enrolling veterans in VA health benefits when they're discharged from the military - an idea that has never gained traction in Congress.