August 20, 2014

Isle veterans air grievances to VA

Complaints with health care include lack of staff, costs and unsympathetic officials

High-ranking U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs officials from Washington, D.C., and Hawaii on Monday heard directly from island veterans about their long list of frustrations that include delays and the high cost of getting VA medical treatment on Oahu.

Seven VA officials — all wearing dark business suits and, in one case, a dress Army uniform — sat in the audience at the Oahu Veterans Center in Foster Village as Fred Ruge of the Maui Veterans Council said the VA "has to treat Hawaii differently. They don't appreciate these small islands."

Hawaii is home to an estimated 100,000 veterans, of whom 45,000 qualify for VA medical benefits, said U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, who presided over Monday's hearing.

Hirono hopes the hearing will help lead to better communication between veterans and administrators about how to fix long-simmering complaints that at one point this year gave the Hawaii VA the ignoble distinction of having the longest delays in the entire system for patients trying to get a first appointment with a primary care physician.

Hirono told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that veterans have "unique circumstances in Hawaii," such as high costs that are often not reimbursed to travel long distances to get VA treatment, unlike other parts of the country.

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By:  Dan Nakaso
Source: Star Advertiser