Raymond Rivera needs to take the bus. Say what you will about Miami's byzantine public transportation system, but this 39-year-old Army veteran uses it to take his daughter to school, attend VA appointments and buy groceries.
With the Patriot Passport, Rivera resident should be able to ride for free. Last year, about 2,000 veterans qualified for the program, which distributes bus and Metrorail passes to veterans around Miami-Dade who make less than $22,000 a year.
The county, however, is denying Rivera his pass. The Cutler Ridge resident served four years starting in 1992 and was awarded various honors -- including the Army Good Conduct Medal, a National Defense Service Medal, an Army Service Ribbon and an Overseas Service Ribbon. He was honorably discharged and decided to extend his service.
The next year, he was given a discharge under honorable conditions after getting into an argument with another service member at a bar in Germany. To qualify for the Patriot Passport, he'd need a honorable discharge form, which is different than the one he received.
"Perhaps worse from the veterans' perspective, Miami-Dade Transit has told Mr. Rivera, and other veterans, that they did not serve 'honorably.'" says Rivera's lawyer, Liam McGivern. "However, under federal veterans benefits law, Mr. Rivera was twice 'honorably discharged.'"
As a civilian, Rivera's income totals about $16,000, which puts him about a millimeter above the poverty line. He sustained knee and leg injuries in the Army and is not currently working. Access to transportation is instrumental for him to find new employment.
He is helping Rivera sue for just a bus pass -- no damages -- and wants other low-income veterans to know that the Patriot Passport exists. Furthermore, he says a large group of people is being harmed by Miami transit's inflexible procedures for obtaining the pass.
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"[Rivera] is not homeless, but a large number of people affected by this issue are homeless," the attorney says. "This concerns the most marginalized members of the Miami-Dade community."
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