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Monday, October 30, 2017
Congress to Investigate Lack of VA Care in Pacific Island Territories
By News Release @ 9:18 PM :: 1332 Views :: Health Care, Military

Amata, Sablan, and Bordallo Call for Oversight Hearing on Pacific Territory Veterans

News Release from Office of Del Aumua Amata October 12, 2017 

Washington, D.C. –Thursday, Congresswoman Aumua Amata (R-AS) along with her colleagues Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D- CNMI) and Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-GU) wrote to Chairman Phil Roe and Ranking Member Tim Walz of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs requesting an oversight hearing to examine the challenges facing veterans residing in American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Independent Samoa, and the Freely Associated States. The Representatives noted that these areas suffer from minimal involvement by the national Department of Veterans’ Affairs. 

“American Samoans enlist in the United States Army at a rate higher than any other place in the United States. American Samoa has also one of the highest percentage of veteran population of any area of the United States. Yet veterans in American Samoa must travel over 2,500 miles to receive care in Hawai’i, and that’s not to mention the lack of any benefits counselors in Americans Samoa. American Samoans have served with distinction in the US Armed Forces for over a hundred years. It’s time they received the care that they are owed,” said Aumua Amata.

“The Northern Marianas is the only U.S. jurisdiction without a VA clinic, dedicated VA medical or mental health professionals, or a Vet Center,” said Congressman Sablan. “Our veterans have to travel to Guam or Hawaii to receive basic medical care.  The VA must do more for the veterans in the Northern Marianas who served our country with honor and distinction. Veterans in the Pacific territories are entitled to the benefits they earned and should be able to access those benefits where they live.” 

Said Congresswoman Bordallo, “Veterans in Guam and the Pacific territories should be treated equitably with their counterparts in the mainland, and receive the level of benefits they have earned from their service to our nation. Unfortunately our veterans continue to experience significant challenges, especially in receiving timely and accessible health care. While I was successful in obtaining funding to remodel and expand Guam’s CBOC and in requiring the GAO to review the level of care provided to veterans in the Pacific, both of which are ongoing, I have been frustrated by continued short staffing levels on Guam and lack of resources dedicated to the needs of our veterans. I hope the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will work diligently to provide appropriate oversight for the concerns on Guam, American Samoa, the CNMI, and other Pacific islands. I look forward to working with Congresswoman Amata and Congressman Sablan, and the Veterans Affairs Committee, to improve services provided to veterans in the Pacific.”

Congresswoman Aumua Amata and Congressman Sablan are members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and sit on the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. Additionally, Congresswoman Aumua Amata sits on the Subcommittee on Health and Congressman Sablan serves on the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

FULL LETTER TEXT:

October 11, 2017

The Honorable Phil Roe Chairman House Committee on Veterans Affairs

The Honorable Tim Walz Ranking Member House Committee on Veterans Affairs

Dear Chairman Roe and Ranking Member Walz:

We request that the Committee on Veterans Affairs hold an oversight hearing on the challenges facing veterans in the Pacific insular areas in obtaining VA health care and other benefits. Specifically, we ask this hearing focus on veterans residing in American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam; as well as the American veterans living in the Independent State of Samoa and the Freely Associated States.

Veterans in the Pacific must contend with much greater obstacles to access VA healthcare than veterans in the rest of the country. They must travel thousands of miles to reach the nearest full-service facility, the Spark M. Matsunaga VA Medical Center in Hawai’i.

American Samoan veterans must fly 5 hours north, a distance of about 2,650 miles, to receive the most basic of care, due to the rundown nature of both the local Veteran’s clinic and LBJ Hospital. Veterans in American Samoa also face the unique challenge of not having direct flights to and from Hawai’i every day, forcing veterans to spend a minimum of three days away from home, and often up to a week.

On Guam, veterans have limited services due to challenges associated with recruiting and retaining of medical doctors, nurses, and staff, especially in the mental health field, and many must fly nearly 4,000 miles to Honolulu for treatment.

Veterans living in the Northern Marianas do not have a VA medical facility, dedicated medical and mental health professionals or a Vet Center to serve them. VA health services are limited to two part-time contract physicians who are at capacity and unable to take additional veteran patients. Veterans in the Marianas must travel to Guam, or in many cases go directly to Hawai’i to receive VA care.

In addition, the Veterans Benefits Administration does not have staff in American Samoa or the Northern Marianas. Veterans there wanting to speak with VBA staff must wait for the occasional visits by staff from Hawai’i or Guam.

It is heartbreaking that men and women who served in the U.S. Armed Forces and chose to return to their island homes face so many unique challenges accessing the most basic health care services that they are entitled to.  Congress must ensure the VA is responding to the unique needs of Pacific Island veterans.

We urge this committee to hold a hearing so that we may examine the injustices that these veterans face and ensure that Pacific Island veterans can receive the care and benefits they deserve.

  *   *   *   *   *

Amata Welcomes Plans for Pacific Territories Veterans Hearing

News Release from Office of Del Aumua Amata October 26, 2017

Washington, D.C. –Thursday, Congresswoman Aumua Amata welcomed news that a veterans hearing will be scheduled sometime in the second session of the 115th Congress to examine the challenges of veterans in Pacific insular areas.

Congresswoman Amata led a bipartisan letter earlier this month, joined by her colleagues Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-CNMI) and Congresswoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-GU), to Chairman Phil Roe and Ranking Member Tim Walz of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, requesting an oversight hearing to examine the challenges facing veterans residing in American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and elsewhere in the Pacific. The Representatives noted that these areas suffer from minimal involvement by the national Department of Veterans’ Affairs. 

Chairman Roe replied today with his intention to move forward with plans for the requested hearing in the second session of the current Congress. “Ensuring that all of our nation’s veterans have access to the health care and other services they need to live healthy, full lives is my top priority as Chairman. To that end, I would be pleased to work with you to schedule a hearing on Pacific insular area veteran access to care in the second session of the 115th Congress,” states the Chairman in his letter.

“I look forward to working with you to address the issues Pacific insular area veterans face and I thank you both for bringing their concerns to my attention and for all your hard work and leadership on behalf of America’s veterans wherever they may reside,” continued the Chairman in his reply.

“This is great news for our veterans, and I look forward to examining these issues in a hearing dedicated to that purpose,” said Aumua Amata. “I appreciate my colleagues, Congressman Sablan and Congresswoman Bordallo, who joined me in this request regarding these priorities that we share. I am especially grateful to Chairman Roe for caring deeply about our veterans, and his willingness to plan this hearing. I also want to thank Ranking Member Walz, and assure our veterans that we will continue to examine ways to improve access to health care in remote areas.”

###

Oct 25: Amata Focuses on Telehealth and Access Needs in Questions to VA Secretary

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