After visiting Puerto Rico, House Veterans' Affairs Chair Mark Takano (D-CA) issued a grave warning about the Trump administration's lack of preparedness.
The Trump administration is not ready to protect veterans in Puerto Rico if another massive hurricane hits the island, Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), chair of the House Veterans Affairs' Committee (HVAC), said in a Monday statement.
Trump officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs are "completely ill prepared to manage another natural disaster of the size and scope experienced in 2017," Takano said. "Veterans in San Juan, Guayama, Ponce and elsewhere on the island still do not have access to the resources, medications, and supplies they need to survive another storm or natural disaster."
The statement comes in the middle of hurricane season, which lasts from June 1 through November 30.
Takano made the statement after leading a bipartisan congressional delegation to Puerto Rico over the weekend to investigate reports from the media and his staff that the island may not be prepared, and also to hear first hand from some of the 90,000 veterans who survived 2017's Hurricane Maria.
In early July, HVAC staff members prepared a report based on their travel to Puerto Rico, returning with troubling information about the VA system on the island. Their investigation revealed the administration officials "in charge of the San Juan veterans center did not know how to access the hospital's medical cache that stores supplies in order to be able to issue emergency prescriptions during a disaster," NBC News reported. Further, administration officials did not have an adequate plan to contact vulnerable veterans who could be imperiled if another hurricane landed.
On his visit, Takano was struck by the Trump administration's treatment of veterans on the island.
"I am ashamed that Puerto Rican veterans like Pedro, an 89-year-old Korean War veteran and Borinqueneer, are still living in homes with blue tarps as makeshift roofs," Takano said. "I am angered by stories of veterans unable to access the care they have earned. And I am determined to make sure that we never forget about these veterans."
Trump's response to Hurricane Maria was roundly criticized as inadequate, including Trump's refusal to acknowledge that more than 3,000 people died as a result of the disaster. When he visited in the aftermath of the storm, Trump infamously tossed paper towels to a crowd of people, an act celebrity chef and humanitarian Jose Andres described as showing "such a lack of empathy." It took 11 months — 328 days — for power to be restored to everyone on the island.
Even years after the island was devastated by the hurricane, Trump fought against sending federal relief to the citizens on the island, whining and lying about the amount of federal aid Puerto Rico received.
With this new investigation, Takano shows that Trump officials are also failing to prepare for when the next hurricane hits.
Trump officials need to "take drastic steps to address shortfalls in its emergency preparedness, communications with veterans, prescription drug agreements, and evacuation plans, in order to make sure it can assist veterans during the next disaster," Takano said. "This weekend, I heard many stories of trauma and loss — VA must listen, too, and treat disaster preparedness efforts with the seriousness it deserves."
"Before another disaster hits Puerto Rico, we need to do more to ensure our veterans are ready," he added.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.