A U.S. Army veteran from Miami-Dade County has been told he's not "honorable" enough to qualify for a veteran's transit pass and he's filed a lawsuit against the county transit agency.
It's a dispute over words and how the military grades soldiers as they return to civilian life. But a benefit hanging in the balance could potentially make a big difference in the lives of low-income veterans.
Raymond Rivera qualified for an honorable discharge after his first four-year Army enlistment. Had he left the service then, he would have gotten discharge form DD-214, which would have been clearly labeled "honorable discharge."
But he re-enlisted for another four-year hitch and that second round caused him a problem.
Because of an infraction involving alcohol, he was given a "general discharge under honorable conditions," the second-most respectable of five ways to leave the service.
Now widowed, disabled, responsible for two daughters and surviving on various benefits, Rivera applied for Miami-Dade Transit's Patriot Passport, which allows low-income Miami-Dade County veterans to ride the buses and trains for free.
His application was denied. "Only U. S. veterans who have an honorable rather than a general discharge qualify for the program," said agency spokeswoman Irene Ferradaz.
Rivera, who didn’t want to be interviewed, went to Legal Services of Greater Miami and retained staff attorney Liam McGivern to sue the agency. His argument is that the ordinance that established the Patriot Passport only required qualifying veterans to have been "honorably discharged," as Rivera believes he was since his general discharge was "under honorable conditions."
But Miami-Dade Transit rules go farther than the ordinance. They require a specific honorable discharge to quality for the Patriot Passport and that extra requirement, according to McGivern, is improper and a violation of Rivera's rights.
McGivern said transportation is hugely important to veterans such as Rivera, who have far-flung responsibilities and very little money.
"What's really at stake is the ability to live a life of dignity, a meaningful life, access your doctor and access employment and do all the things that a lot of people take for granted," McGivern said.
But things are looking up: Miami-Dade Transit is now asking the county commission to broaden the Patriot Passport Program to include veterans with those general discharges. McGivern says if the commission agrees, the lawsuit will go away.