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Puerto Rican veteran still struggling 2 years after Hurricane Maria

When Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico two years ago this week, Pedro Díaz Márcanos' home in Guayama, a small city in the island's southeastern coast, was severely damaged. The 88-year-old Korean War veteran's home still has a blue tarp for a roof, according to the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

The committee is urging the Trump administration to help the former member of the 65th Infantry Regiment, a decorated Puerto Rican outfit whose soldiers, known as "The Borinqueneers," have fought in most major conflicts since the early 20th century. 

The Democratic-led panel's chairman, Representative Mark Takano of California, met Díaz Márcanos earlier this summer during an oversight trip to the island. Takano was outraged by the living conditions endured by Díaz Márcanos, who is one of many Puerto Ricans still living in damaged homes with makeshift roofs. His office set out to make some requests to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs on behalf of Díaz Márcanos — to no avail. 

"Our requests for clarification — how an 88-year-old veteran and survivor of the deadliest natural disaster in American history could be living under a plastic tarp in his own home for two years — have gone unanswered," Takano wrote in a letter this week to the heads of FEMA and the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

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Rep. Mark Takano of California, the chair of the Democratic-led House Veterans Affairs Committee, met former Korean War veteran Pedro Díaz Márcanos this summer.  House Committee on Veterans' Affairs

According to the committee, Hurricane Maria — which pummeled Puerto Rico in the fall of 2017 days after Hurricane Irma struck the island — destroyed Díaz Márcanos' roof and damaged his door, windows and stove. The veteran, the committee said, received a FEMA grant of $574.14 in the aftermath of the powerful storms. However, the estimated repairs for his home totaled nearly $1,400. 

"Because of the conditions of his age, he is unable to work and has no means of getting the additional $791.04 to build a roof," Takano wrote in the letter. 

Díaz Márcanos appealed the amount of the initial FEMA award but was rejected 10 months later, according to the committee.

Takano said the Department of Veterans Affairs told his committee that Díaz Márcanos is not eligible for homeless services because he often stays with family. FEMA declined to comment due to privacy concerns. 

In his letter this week, Takano demanded that the Department of Veterans Affairs provide a "detailed explanation" as to why the Díaz Márcanos is not eligible for any housing assistance from the department. He also asked FEMA to explain why $574.14 was a "suitable amount to finance a new roof." 

"It cannot be that there is nothing either of your offices can do," Takano said. 

Reached for comment, a Department of Veterans Affairs spokesperson told CBS News the agency has been in touch with Díaz Márcanos regarding his predicament, but noted that it "can only provide homeless assistance services to Veterans who are eligible for them." 

FEMA declined to comment about the specific case but provided generic information about its housing assistance during natural disasters. 

"Housing repair assistance available through FEMA is meant to provide the funds necessary to make the home habitable while permanent repairs are made. Again, this does not mean that a home is repaired to its pre-disaster state, just that survivors are able to meet the basic necessities," a FEMA spokesperson told CBS News.

According to figures accepted by the Puerto Rican government, about 3,000 people were killed as a result of Maria and the island incurred about $90 billion in damage. Since then, the approximately 3.2 million U.S. citizens on the island have endured a prolonged recovery process, hampered further by years of economic woes and political instability. 

Takano finished his letter by saying his plea on the second anniversary of Maria is for the administration to help Díaz Márcanos. 

"No American, especially our veterans, should be living under plastic sheets," he wrote. "Pedro will turn 89 next month. My expectation is that this government can see to it he is safe in his home in time to celebrate."

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