The CNMI’s first permanent Veterans Benefits counselor, Willie Peterson III, reached out to veterans on Tinian last Tuesday and talked to them about how he and the CNMI Office of Veterans Affairs can help Tinian’s veterans file for and claim their veterans benefits.
OVA executive officer Stanley T. Iakopo said in a phone interview that he and Peterson met with around 12 Tinian veterans, and that the discussions focused on introducing Peterson to the veterans and talking about how Peterson and the OVA can help the veterans file for and claim their veterans benefits. Also present at the meeting was Tinian Mayor Edwin P. Aldan, who also took part in the meetings to connect with Peterson and Tinian’s veterans.
Peterson, who was previously a legal administrative specialist for the Veterans Benefits Administration Honolulu VA Regional Office, is still employed by the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs VBA Honolulu VA Regional Office, but is now based in the CNMI, where he will be helping the Commonwealth’s veterans for the foreseeable future.
While the purpose of Tuesday’s outreach was mostly to allow Peterson to connect with Tinian veterans, Iakopo said that many other topics were touched on, such as the financial hardships faced by veterans who do not live on Saipan and find themselves having to fly to Saipan to receive veteran-specific healthcare and the current state of the Tinian Veterans’ Cemetery.
Iakopo said he and Peterson were going to visit Rota this Friday, Oct. 29, to conduct a similar outreach with Rota Mayor Efraim Atalig and Sen. Paul A. Manglona awaiting their arrival. However, in an email Friday, Aiko Shibuya, who is program analyst for the Honolulu VA Regional Office, notified Saipan Tribune that Peterson’s trip to Rota had been postponed.
In the same email, Shibuya clarified that Peterson is employed by the DVA VBA Honolulu VA Regional Office and is not a CNMI OVA employee. Sibuya added that Peterson’s official travel is “dependent on availability of funding, current COVID guidance, and approval by the Honolulu VA Regional Office.”
With the CNMI now having an accredited Veterans Benefits counselor, Iakopo hopes that last Tuesday’s outreach will be “one of many future trips” to Saipan’s neighboring islands.
“This is the first of many future trips. The goal for the Office of Veterans Affairs is to fly out once or twice a month and help and service the veterans and families of veterans on [Tinian and Rota]. That’s the ultimate goal, and it’s what’s in place right now,” said Iakopo.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect clarifications from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at the Honolulu Regional Office.