US military veterans living here attend lecture on getting benefits
A “surprisingly large” population of US veterans exists in Bermuda, and many don't realise that they qualify for benefits from the US government.
Former US Marine Corps Staff Sergeant David Perinchief, a dual US-Bermuda citizen, told The Royal Gazette he'd spoken with at least 30 veterans at a meeting hosted by US Consul General Robert Settje.
“Their numbers are more than I originally thought — you wonder how many more of them are out there,” he added.
After serving in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, Sgt Perinchief became a national service officer with the Military Order of the Purple Heart — and has made it his mission to connect veterans and their families with the aid they're entitled to receive from the US Veterans Association (VA).
Among those who attended his speech at Mr Settje's official residence was Colonel Sumner Waters, also a dual citizen, who learned he could qualify for benefits he wasn't even aware of.
“The system is so important and so complicated — you have to be up on your regulations because they change all the time,” Col Waters said.
“The key for most GIs is they're getting better, not worse. The only positive thing I can say about the last ten years of war is the benefits have improved.
“A million and a half soldiers served in that time, my son Charles included, and they are providing more benefits to these soldiers than at any other time in history.”
Taught never to complain — and often loath to report injuries in case it derailed their careers in the armed forces — soldiers in his day “never let on that there was anything wrong”, he explained.
After Col Waters described a lingering problem with his leg left by an infection in 1971, plus some hearing damage sustained while serving, Sgt Perinchief replied: “Call my office.”
Sgt Perinchief's job is to negotiate the VA's seemingly Byzantine system of rules, and get veterans their benefits.
“There's a huge misunderstanding of the way the VA works,” he said.
Working from a Boston office, he now has 781 active claims and has 1,973 veterans under his name.
His latest Bermuda visit made the system clearer for a few more — dual nationals or US veterans who for whatever reason ended up living in Bermuda.
Some are simply unaware of what's available to them, he said, while others, such as Vietnam veterans “are afraid to come to the VA for treatment until they see our generation and realise it's changed”.
After addressing Thursday night's gathering, Sgt Perinchief returned yesterday to the US.
“It's the best feeling in the world when these guys come in to see you, and they're so mad, so angry, and when you explain it to them they get that smile,” he said.