Monday, November 20, 2017 | Updated at 3:46 PM ET

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Is the New VA Law Enough to Fix Problems Facing Latino Veterans?

First Posted: Jun 26, 2017 06:33 AM EDT
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During a White House ceremony on Friday, President Donald Trump signed legislation that simplifies the process of firing employees from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In addition to facilitating the termination of failed VA workers, the president's signed accountability bill also protects individuals known as "whistleblowers" who reveal offenses taking place at the agency.

The signing of the bill was spurred by the infamous 2014 story, when some military veterans waiting months for their health appointments at the Phoenix VA medical center died.

The law is necessary to expedite the disciplinary process, take back paid bonuses from employees found guilty of wrongdoing, and restore integrity to and faith in a critical institution.

And, yet, for many, the damage goes beyond the VA scandal.

That which revealed itself in the egregious form of professional wrongdoing at the second-largest department of the U.S. government is also reflected in the specific mistreatment of Latino veterans.

Former servicemen and women have had to meet with congressional leaders in order to exempt veterans and their families who are permanent residents in the U.S. from deportation.

Although legal permanent residents serving in the military qualify for expedited citizenship, the information has not always been conveyed to them and the specifics on immigration policy are unclear.

Jesus Manuel Valenzuela, a retired Marine lance corporal born in Mexico, was served a notice of his deportation in 2009 on the grounds that he had committed a misdemeanor over 20 years prior.

A June 19th letter addressed to VA Secretary David Shulkin requested a meeting to discuss ways the department can "provide deported veterans living outside of the U.S. with the support, resources and services they have earned by serving our nation."

Puerto Ricans, in particular, represent 330,000 U.S. military veterans, one-third of which lives on the island. Yet, the effects of Puerto Rico's financial crisis are creating a brain-drain scenario where, from 2003-2015, the island lost 52,000 veterans to the mainland.

The exodus deepens Puerto Rico's economic troubles and puts it in a situation where the U.S. federal government fails to support its own territory during a critical time in its history.

The president's accountability bill, vital though it may be, ought to be the first step in rectifying a broader issue that affects Latin-American veterans across the country.

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