CNMI Office of Veterans Affairs executive officer Stanley T. Iakopo, third from left, shares a photo with some officials from the Veterans Affairs Pacific Island Health Care System after a meeting last week in Hawaii. Iakopo visited the office last week to meet with officials and discuss a variety of challenges faced by veterans living in the CNMI.
CNMI Office of Veterans Affairs executive officer Stanley T. Iakopo recently brought the challenges that CNMI veterans face when trying to obtain their medication prescriptions to the attention of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Honolulu in a bid to make the process easier and more cost-effective.
Iakopo, who visited the VA Pacific Island Health Care System in Hawaii last week to meet with VA officials, said that the CNMI’s lone hospital does not carry VA insurance, and as such, if a veteran were to pick up prescription medications at the hospital pharmacy, they would need to pay for it out of pocket.
Select private pharmacies on Saipan accept VA insurance though, said Iakopo. However, there are still challenges for veterans picking up medications at these pharmacies. Iakopo explained that, although these select pharmacies carry VA insurance, they are not authorized to fully fill a veteran’s prescriptions— the prescriptions are filled by the VA Pacific Island Health Care System in Honolulu, who mail the medication from Hawaii to the CNMI, which Iakopo said takes two weeks or longer for the medication to arrive.
Taking into account how relatively isolated the CNMI is as well as possible transport delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and/or any other reason, waiting two weeks or longer for much-needed medical prescriptions for veterans is “unacceptable.”
“It’s unacceptable to our veterans [to] wait two to three weeks for medication. …A veteran might have extenuating medical problems [that may be] worsened while waiting for the mail-order prescriptions. This whole process will adversely affect the veteran,” said Iakopo.
While veterans wait for their mail-order prescriptions, these select private pharmacies dispense a week’s worth of medication, which veterans will have to pay for up front, as they will have to wait on reimbursement from the VA.
To address these challenges, Iakopo suggested during his meeting that the VA Pacific Island Health Care System give the CNMI’s select private pharmacies who already carry VA insurance the authority to fully fill veterans’ prescriptions.
“A lot of veterans don’t have that kind of money. Some medications are $100, $50. …What if you have three medicines? …This is something that I raised to [the VA Pacific Island Health Care System]. …Why not use the existing pharmacies that are accepting VA [insurance] coverage for medication [so that] they can dispense [medication to veterans] right then and there,” said Iakopo.
At the core of his meeting, Iakopo told Saipan Tribune, is that he would like to keep the VA Pacific Island Health Care System accountable for the CNMI’s veterans and to urge the office to work closely with the CNMI’s pharmacies to improve the process in which veterans living on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota receive their prescription medication.
“The whole reason I had this meeting is to ensure that our veterans are getting the proper care, treatment, and services in the CNMI [and to] also ensure that the [VA Pacific Island Health Care System] is held accountable for the services and the treatment for our veterans here,” said Iakopo.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated on Jan. 29, 2022, to correct references to the VA Pacific Island Health Care System.