Raymond Rivera spends more than $10 daily traveling on buses to take his daughter to school.
Rivera, an armed forces veteran, requested the Patriot Passport, a pass that Miami-Dade provides to ex-military to travel free of charge on the vehicles operated by the County Department of Public Transit (MDT), such as the Metrorail and the Metrobus.
But MDT denied his application because Rivera did not meet the requirement of having obtained an honorable discharge when he left the armed forces. Rivera left the army with a general discharge under honorable conditions, a different category.
As such, Rivera is entitled to the benefits provided by the Veterans Administration (VA), but not to a free pass to travel on county trains and buses. Mr. Rivera, 39 years of age, is one of several war veterans who have been rejected by MDT for the Patriot Passport.
Attorney Liam Joseph McGivern, of Legal Services of Greater Miami, is representing Rivera and other ex-members of the armed forces in a similar situation.
“Miami-Dade Transit has made an excessively restrictive interpretation of the criteria known as an honorable discharge, and for that reason it is denying the Patriot Passport to war veterans whom the VA itself has determined rendered services honorably,” McGivern pointed out.
Nevertheless, for MDT the county criterion is clear.
“The County Attorney’s Office has reviewed the ordinance that established the Patriot Passport program and has reaffirmed that only United States veterans who have an honorable discharge, instead of a general discharge, qualify for the program,” the spokesperson for MDT, Karla Damian, stated.
In interviews last week, two of the veterans represented by McGivern told their stories to El Nuevo Herald. They acknowledged that they did not receive honorable discharges, but pointed out that their general discharge under honorable conditions was acceptable to the VA and that, therefore, it should also be acceptable to MDT.
David Cowles, 56 years of age, who was in the army during the Vietnam conflict did not receive an honorable discharge, because after catching hepatitis B and being hospitalized he left his post without permission.
As a result thereof, he only obtained a discharge under non-honorable conditions, he said.
“The VA considers that he rendered services honorably and was discharged honorably,” McGivern explained. However, he does not have the form required by MDT honorably discharging him.
Cowles indicated that currently he has a free monthly pass given to him by VA officers.
“But those passes are available in limited quantities,” McGivern stated. The Patriot Passport is good for one year.
“I need the pass because I don´t have a car,” Cowles stated, who lives in Aventura. “It is hard for me to walk and I have a colostomy bag. I have to go to the Veterans Hospital for medical appointments and also go to the grocery store. I have to take a bus and the Metrorail to get to the hospital. It costs me $2.25 each time I get on the bus. Then I have to pay $2.25 more to use the Metrorail and then return home.”
Rivera, who was in the army during the 1990´s, did not receive an honorable discharge due to a dispute on New Year´s Eve in 1997, which caused an order to be issued for him to be returned to the United States from a base abroad.
“I obtained a general discharge under honorable conditions, which is the same thing,” Rivera stated.
“Under federal law, Mr. Rivera received a totally honorable discharge by completing his original period of enlistment of four years, but at the conclusion of his original enlistment period he did not receive the form that states that fact. However, due to the fact that he prolonged his enlistment, it was only some months after that initial period had ended and he only received a general discharge under honorable conditions. Mr. Rivera has the discharge requested by MDT to obtain the Patriot Passport, but cannot prove it with the form that MDT is asking for,” McGivern assured.
But when he requested the Patriot Passport, MDT told him they could not give it to him.
Rivera does not have a car and must take his 12-year-old daughter to school on the bus.
“In the morning I climb onto three buses just to take her to school,” Rivera said. “And I have to take two buses to get back home.”
In the afternoon, Rivera must repeat the journey to take his daughter back home from school.
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