Since 2010, HealthCare Alliance Panama has successfully sponsored the Annual Veterans Convention in Panama City. Guest speakers from VA, veterans organizations, and military VIPs have been invited to present their expertise on special subject matters. LTG Joe Kinzer, LTG Michael Rochelle, MG Valenzuela, LTG Ricardo Sanchez, Mr. JM Hedge, and CSM Rogelio Davidson have been guest speakers. These meetings take place in exclusive hotels in Panama City. Veterans get to meet other veterans and their families. One such meeting was also sponsored in the Province of Chiriqui, border with Costa Rica, with resounding success. Attendance was exceptional and overwhelming.
Starting in 2018, coordinations are being made to provide veteran and retiree health and pharmacy services in Nicaragua, Colombia and Dominican Republic. We are reaching out to all veterans in Central and South America to inform that Hospital Brisas, in Panama City, is available for hospitalizations and surgeries for VA-FMP disabilities, CHAMPVA and TRICARE.
Esteban Blis, Public Affairs Officer and US Army retired/disabled veteran, worked day and night to assist four homeless or abused veterans, in Panama City, Chiriqui, and Colon. He located these veterans through witness accounts. Once taken off the streets, Esteban completed all the paperwork and forms so they could receive their hard earned compensation, pension, and Social Security payments. Esteban was able to send one abused veteran to a VA home in Florida.
A communication link was established with the MEDCOM Commander and TRICARE Director to convey problems and obstacles being confronted by veterans and their families in Panama with their TRICARE medical insurance. This is ongoing.
In 2016, the Veteran Service Officers (VSOs) did the first ever census of retirees, veterans, widows, widowers and dependent family members residing in the Republic of Panama. The census is an ongoing project. So far, 4,000+ Veterans, Retirees, and family members have been accounted for.
Contact was established with the chief of the Regional Federal Benefits Unit (FBU), US Embassy Costa Rica, about the assistance required by veterans and families in Panama. The Costa Rica FBU was provided with a briefing of the Veteran Service Officer’s assistance and success stories with veterans and their families in Panama. The US Embassy in Costa Rica provides continued and untiring professional assistance, support and guidance with Social Security benefits for veterans, their families, widows and widowers.
In November 2018, the US Embassy contacted Mr. Butcher, VSO Operations Officer, of an 87 year old housebound and bedridden Army veteran case in the Province of Chiriqui, Panama, that requested to be transferred to a VA hospital in California. Mr. Butcher immediately phoned his VSO team member in the Province of Chiriqui, Mr. JR Pazo, with the veteran’s case details and ordered immediate action be taken. With assistance from local police detectives, JR Pazo was able to locate the veteran’s home. The veteran’s landlord lived next door and was aware of the veteran’s petition. She provided access to the veteran’s home, accompanied by the police detectives. The veteran was found in unsanitary conditions. JR Pazo notified Mr. Butcher and the US Embassy that the veteran was located. JR Pazo made calls to the veteran’s lawyer in the US who purchased the plane ticket for the veteran’s departure. JR Pazo then contacted the veteran’s caretaker and had the veteran bathed and his house cleaned. The following day, the veteran was bathed, clothed, packed and taken to the local airport. He flew to Panama City where a US Embassy representative awaited him to take him to his departure gate for his flight to the US. The veteran is now in a VA nursing home & assisted living in California.
In December 2018, a 67 year old Army veteran traveling from Peru, through Panama, to a VA hospital in the US for cancer treatment, passed away in Panama after having health complications at the Tocumen international airport. The US Embassy in Panama contacted Mr. Butcher, VSO Operations Officer, and Mr Blis, VSO Liaison and PAO. These two VSOs immediately set in motion the emergency assistance plan and procedures. The VSOs made all required family contacts, completed all necessary legal and VA Forms and obtained the family’s permission to cremate the veteran in Panama. All morgue, transport and cremation expenses were donated by HealthCare Alliance, Panama. A memorial service was held at the Cristo Rey Church in Panama City. The veteran’s ashes, alongside his burial US flag, were present. Per instructions and permission from his family in the US, the veteran’s ashes were scattered at a secluded beach after solemn military honors by VSOs and fellow veterans.
In February 2019, a Veteran Service Office was opened in the City of Sabaneta, Antioquia, at Torres Bombay, Carrera 43C, Calle 68 Sur 21, Colombia. A project and effort started in 2018.
In April 2019, four volunteer VSOs from Panama were selected for VSO training at the Veterans Benefit Administration (VBA), Houston, TX. The training was provided by professional instructors from the Texas Veterans Commission.
In May 2019, the volunteer VSOs in the Republic of Panama founded the Panama Veterans Commission as a unique, highly respected and recognized volunteer organization in Panama providing services to veterans, family members and survivors significantly improving their quality of life. VSOs have been providing volunteer veteran services since 1999.
On 25 September 2020, HealthCare Alliance and the Panama Veterans Commission donated a much needed wheelchair to five year old Carlos Berrio. Carlos is diagnosed with Arthrogryposis multiplex congenita and has undergone four corrective surgeries to his right hip and right leg. Right foot surgery is pending. Godspeed on Carlos' surgery recovery.
Veteran Service Officers(VSOs) consistently and effectively assist fellow veterans within Panama and throughout Central and South America. VSOs have visited the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica. VSOs are veterans helping veterans. VSOs stand shoulder-to-shoulder and extend a welcome hand to all veterans who want to be part of this great and honorable endeavor.