Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) has appealed directly to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie for the department to improve its services in the CNMI.
At a U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing last Feb. 28, Sablan told to Wilkie about the “utter frustration” Marianas veterans have had with the lack of access to their healthcare benefits. There are no Community-Based Outpatient Clinics in the CNMI, nor a Veterans Center, and the delegate expressed concern over the VA’s decision to just run a community provider program for the Pacific territories.
Wilkie assured Sablan of the department’s commitment to veterans in the CNMI. “I have to be more creative in getting our partners in the Department of Defense out to the Marianas and expand also, and I spoke to the governor of Guam about this a week and a half ago. Expand our VA presence in Guam as the Naval Hospital expands. We’re trying to be very creative,” Wilkie said.
Sablan lamented that in the CNMI, it took the VA longer to get the social worker they hired to report to work on its first day than it took for the social worker to retire from his position, and highlighted that there are no caregivers nor veteran affairs supportive housing in the CNMI.
“You guys were talking about programs, caregivers, and HUD VASH. Those are not available in my district because VA will not put staff in my district! I’ve got nothing except for a fee-based doctor who’s available twice a week to see 400 veterans—almost 500,” Sablan told Wilkie. “Sir, when they put on a uniform, they are as much American as you are. And yet, when they get wounded and they go to the islands, they’re only half an American. It’s enough that they don’t vote for their commander-in-chief, sir. Give them some decency!”
Wilkie said that he had discussions with the United States Indo-Pacific Command to bring in people and their ships to help care for CNMI veterans, and also to expand the veterans facility in Guam, the closest that would serve veterans on the islands.
Dr. Richard Stone, the Veteran Health Administration executive in charge, said at the hearing that VA feels that it could better serve the veteran population by directly contracting with the providers in the area.
Stone also added that the “size of this market is so small as far as the number of veterans that are in it, that the third party administrators, we felt, we could administer better directly.”
Sablan has been urging veterans to sign up and register with the VVHA, in an effort to push for the establishment of a CBOC in the Marianas, to make health care access easier for veterans on the islands, where they could be provided with outpatient services, as well as health and wellness visits.