Raymond Rivera is a U.S. Army veteran who uses public transportation to accompany his 12-year-old daughter on her lengthy rides to school.
But Miami-Dade County has split hairs in discerning his military discharge, denying him and other low-income veterans the Patriot Passport, which would allow them to ride pubic transportation for free.
Legal Services of Greater Miami Inc. filed a lawsuit Friday in County Court on behalf of Rivera against the county, saying he was denied the pass while meeting all the requirements for one.
There are different levels of discharge for veterans. Rivera received an honorable discharge in 1996 after his first stint and a discharge “under honorable conditions” after his second stint, which ended in 1997.
Even though the federal government considers him honorably discharged, Miami-Dade public transit bureaucrats do not.
Rivera receives a Department of Veteran Affairs disability compensation for an injury he received while serving in the Army. Recently, the bus fare went up to $2.25 for a one-way trip. Rivera’s daughter is eligible for a free pass because she is a Social Security recipient due to her mother’s death.
Legal Services said more than 1,800 low-income veterans used the Patriot Passport in 2012 to attend Department of Veterans Affairs doctor’s appointments, commute to work and carry out other daily activities.
Legal Services staff attorney Liam Joseph McGivern said Rivera is not the only veteran— many of them homeless—who has been denied the Patriot Pass.
“We started to look into the issue, and we found the ordinance establishing the Patriot Passport was more broad in its eligibility,” McGivern said. A lot of the denials are because homeless veterans often do have the required discharge certificate, he said.
“The Miami-Dade County Commission created a great program to lend a helping hand to our community’s veterans, but we contend that the inflexible procedures used by Miami-Dade Transit to determine whether a veteran is eligible for the Patriot Passport unreasonably excludes a large number of our community’s most vulnerable veterans from participation in the program,” he said.
Adding insult to injury, Miami-Dade Transit told Rivera and other veterans that they did not serve “honorably” when, in fact, federal law says they did, he said.
Legal Services has made veterans advocacy one of its top priorities.
The lawsuit seeks an injunction to require transit authorities to issue a Patriot Pass to Rivera. A judge has yet to be assigned.
A call to the Miami-Dade Transit Authority for comment on the lawsuit was not returned by deadline.