Amata, Sablan, and Bordallo Call for Oversight Hearing on Pacific Territory Veterans
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
House Committee on Veterans Affairs
335 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
The Honorable Tim Walz
House Committee on Veterans Affairs
333 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
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.
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