It was last week that veterans met to determine the fate of the Veterans Commission and raised the question: could the Veterans Commission be replaced by a council appointed by the governor?
In an interview with PNC, Veterans Affairs Director Fred Bordallo explored what the Governor’s Advisory Council would look like if it was to replace the Veterans Commission which has been described as “defunct” by commission members after years of struggling.
“I think the governor mentioned it in her state of the island address about how she is exploring the possibility of coming up with the Veterans Advisory Council which is consistent with Title Ten Chapter 67. Because there is supposed to be representatives of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, but they didn’t have a Coast Guard. We feel that there are some Coast Guard veterans on this island that sort of felt slighted,” Bordallo said.
According to Bordallo, a Veterans Advisory Council would take that into consideration and would ensure that a representative from all branches of the military including the Coast Guard is made a part of the council.
Veterans who are a part of the commission are members through non-profit organizations such as the Purple Heart and VFW. But during the July 26 Veterans Commission meeting, former chairman Danny Mendiola indicated that non-profit organization certifications for membership into the commission were in shambles. The commission has also struggled with getting younger veterans to participate in the commission as it was pointed out that it is always the same faces in attendance.
“We’ve been sitting here years for 15 years and we have a tendency as a group not to follow the laws. We try to twist things around and we try to accommodate. There were certain vet organizations that we tried to remove because they never showed. Now all of a sudden they want to submit their paperwork. Enough is enough, if we can’t get our act together then the governor is probably going to have to take over,” veteran advocate Tom Devlin said.
But despite the struggles, the veterans made it clear that a council is not what they want.
“I would propose this … if those in this room want to have a commission that represents veterans, I am not a believer of turning this over to a person who has no clue about veterans or anything else that we go through with the VA or anything else … and I mean the governor,” veteran Barry Mead said.
He added: “Our current director is a veteran who doesn’t have any idea of how to deal with the VA.”
Those in attendance at Friday’s meeting also expressed a lack of faith in the abilities of the governor and the director. The Veterans Commission has been a non-partisan group but the possibility of the governor stepping in has raised concerns.
“I can honestly say that some of the resistance or pushback on this will be political and I think that it is just disingenuous to think that it would be political because for people that would be part of the advisory council, it doesn’t matter whether they are Democrat or Republican,” Bordallo said.
According to Bordallo, the idea for a Veterans Advisory Council came from the late Senator Tony Unpingco who suggested that the council advise and assist the Veterans Affairs director through a partnership.
For now, the Veterans Commission is in operation as the newly elected chairman Bryan Miranda accepted with the stipulation that he would only be in office for four months. This means that the clock is ticking for the commission to get its act together.