Says VA ‘underserves’ CNMI, Pacific insular veterans
The CNMI’s delegate to U.S. Congress joined other representatives of U.S. Pacific territories in calling for an oversight on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
According to Delegate Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan’s (Ind-MP) online newsletter, Sablan, along with American Samoa Delegate Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-AS), and Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU), made a formal request to House Committee on Veteran Affairs chair Phil Roe (R-TN) and Ranking Member Tim Walz (D-MN) for an oversight hearing on the VA last week.
“Many of our veterans must travel off-island, sometimes at their own expense, to get the care they need. The oversight hearing that I am calling for, along with my colleagues [Radewagen] and [Bordallo] would help shine a spotlight on the unique challenges veterans in the islands face in accessing the services and benefits they have earned,” said Sablan in a statement to Saipan Tribune.
According to the newsletter, Sablan said he wishes to use the hearing to remind the committee that the Marianas is the only U.S. jurisdiction without a VA medical facility, mental and physical health resources, or full-time medical staff.
“We also lack any full-time Veterans Benefits Administration staff to help veterans get their benefits. These are deficits that cannot be ignored,” said Sablan, adding that veterans should be able to access the benefits they earned where they live.
Sablan said in a statement that the VA is currently recruiting a license clinical social worker to be based in the Marianas.
He added that his goals included establishing a fully staffed, fully equipped VA clinic in the Marianas; dedicated medical and mental health professionals; a Cet Center that provides transition assistance, counseling, outreach, and social service referrals for veterans and their families; permanent VA benefits staff servicing veterans on all three islands; and more staffing and supervision for the VA health office.
“At my request and with the support of Veterans and Military Affairs executive officer Oscar Torres, the VA recently conducted training for Commonwealth staff to assist veterans with their benefits claims,” he said.
Sablan added that through the congressional office’s outreach efforts and collaboration with the TriWest Health Alliance, they have tripled the number of community care providers available to veterans in the Marianas through the Veterans Choice Program.
According to Sablan, he is now in discussions with the Guam Vet Center to begin conducting outreach services and an assessment if there is a need to establish a similar Vet Center in the CNMI.
“… In July, the U.S. House approved funding for the VA to study the feasibility of establishing VA clinics in remote and underserved areas such as the Marianas,” Sablan noted.
Currently, services available to veterans residing in the CNMI are limited to a VA contracted service from two physicians providing care through the VA Saipan Outreach Clinic. According to Sablan, the physicians have their own practices and are only able to visit the CNMI veterans on a part-time basis.
He also noted that the VA has only one administrative representative on-island that coordinates health care appointments for veterans on all three senatorial districts, but lack on-island staff to assist veterans with their compensation and other benefits claims.
Sablan noted that the VA sends representatives from Guam or Hawaii “every few months” to conduct outreach as well as claims counseling on Saipan, which he notes usually lasts a day.