Borinqueneers honored in defense appropriation bill

By John McPhaul

The U.S. House of Representatives earlier this week passed H.R. 6395, the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021, which includes two bipartisan amendments jointly offered by island Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón (R-P.R.) and Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) to support military veterans in Puerto Rico, who are not always treated equally compared to veterans residing in the states.

The first González Colón-Murphy amendment expresses the House of Representatives’ support for designating April 13 as “National Borinqueneers Day” in honor of the 65th Infantry Regiment, a U.S. Army unit that consisted mostly of soldiers from Puerto Rico. The regiment distinguished itself for bravery during the Korean War and other conflicts, overcame discrimination against Hispanic soldiers, and earned the Congressional Gold Medal on April 13, 2016.

The amendment also “expresses deep gratitude for the contributions to the Armed Forces that have been made by hundreds of thousands of patriotic United States citizens from Puerto Rico.” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), together with Sen. Robert Menéndez (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), led a successful effort to get a similar provision through the U.S. Senate on July 1.

“I am immensely proud of the service and sacrifice of the Borinqueneers, who without ever voting for their Commander in Chief, as servicemembers of the Island still do now, selflessly fought and at times paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country and the values we hold dear,” González Colón said. “This is another way to continue expressing our appreciation for these great soldiers and their families.”

Murphy said “I am thrilled that Rep. González Colón and I were able to include this provision honoring the brave Borinqueneers in the annual defense bill.”

“Designating April 13th as ‘National Borinqueneers Day’ is a fitting tribute to the men of this revered unit, as well as to all men and women from Puerto Rico who have served and sacrificed in the U.S. military, defending democracy even though they do not enjoy it themselves,” she said.

González Colón and Murphy also included a second amendment in the defense bill approved Monday, requiring the U.S. Department of Defense to swiftly brief Congress on the feasibility, benefits, and costs of extending TRICARE Prime to military retirees — veterans who served on active duty for at least 20 years — residing in Puerto Rico. TRICARE is the health care program of the Department of Defense, and TRICARE Prime is a managed care option that is available to retirees in nearly every state, but not in Puerto Rico or the other territories, a source of longstanding frustration on the part of veterans in Puerto Rico.

“According to the report by the Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico, having limited access to TRICARE Prime is one way in which Puerto Rico is treated differently under several federal programs,” González Colón said. “This amendment gives us an opportunity to continue working toward rectifying this discrepancy. I trust it will provide valuable and updated information, building on former reports and moving us closer to resolving this issue.”

“It is completely unacceptable that TRICARE Prime is not available to military retirees in Puerto Rico and the other territories,” Murphy said. “If you served 20 or more years in the U.S. military and then retire in Puerto Rico, you should have access to the same health services as are available to your fellow veterans living in Florida or any state. This is a moral issue, and we won’t rest until it’s fixed.”

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