May 23, 2018

Hirono Supports Comprehensive Legislation to Improve Health Care for Hawaii Veterans

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Mazie K. Hirono voted for S. 2372, the John S. McCain III, Daniel K. Akaka, and Samuel R. Johnson VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSION) Act today, comprehensive legislation that strengthens the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system while reforming programs that provide veterans access to care closer to home when necessary. The bill passed the Senate 92-5.

“Our veterans deserve a strong VA system that provides the best care we can give them,” Senator Hirono, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee said. “This bipartisan compromise bill is not perfect, but it contains many top priorities for Hawaii veterans.  It makes needed investments to address VA medical staff vacancies in Hawaii and streamlines programs so veterans can access community care when necessary. I will continue to fight attempts to privatize the VA and work to ensure that the federal government keeps the promises it made to the men and women who served our country.” 

“We’d like to thank Senator Mazie Hirono for her longtime advocacy and staunch support Hawaii's troops, veterans and their families and for voting to pass the VFW-backed VA MISSION Act which will help improve the Hawaii VA’s ability to hire and retain personnel, streamline community care programs and expand comprehensive caregiver benefits to our members who served before 9/11,” Hawaii VFW Commander Jonathon Hoomanawanui said. “The enactment of this bill honors the nation’s commitment to our veterans to provide them with the services they have earned and strikes the right balance to make sure we strengthen the VA system and provide veterans with the best care possible.” 

“The American Legion Department of Hawaii appreciates Senator Hirono’s many years of work to support veterans and applauds her vote to pass the VA MISSION Act,” John Williams, Commander of the American Legion Department of Hawaii said. “This important legislation is a victory for veterans and achieves longstanding priorities for our membership from helping address Hawaii VA’s ongoing staffing challenges, to consolidating the multiple ways a veteran can obtain care closer to home into one simple program, to opening the caregiver program to veterans of all eras, and to ensuring the VA has the funding necessary to provide the best care to all veterans.”

“We’d like to thank Senator Hirono for her steadfast efforts to defend Native Hawaiian programs including the healthcare benefits that our Native Hawaiian veterans have earned with their service,” Dr. Sheri-Ann Daniels, Executive Director of Papa Ola Lokahi said. “Senator Hirono’s provision in the VA MISSION Act to preserve NHHCS agreements with the VA will allow us to continue our efforts to improve access to healthcare and reach more veteran clients.” 

The VA MISSION Act would benefit Hawaii veterans by:

Expanding Staff Recruitment and Retention: This bill invests over $10 billion in bolstering the VA’s internal capacity. These needed resources and other changes in the bill will help fill the over 100 VA frontline medical staff vacancies in Hawaii by establishing new scholarship programs for medical students who agree to work for the VA, increasing the amount of student loan debt the VA will pay for certain health care professionals from $120,000 to $200,000, and rolling back limits enacted in 2014 on financial incentives for VA employees.

Expanding VA Telehealth programs: The bill includes language from Senator Hirono’s bipartisan VETS Act that would allow veterans to access VA telemedicine services from providers across state lines and would also allow the veteran to access telemedicine outside of a VA clinic, including in the veteran’s own home. This is particularly important for veterans in rural communities who may live far from a health care provider. 

Improving assistance to caregivers: The bill expands VA’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program to veterans of all generations. The program was initially created by legislation Senator Daniel Akaka passed in 2006, and now provides a tax-free average monthly stipend of $1600, reimbursement for travel expenses, health insurance, mental health services and counseling, training, and respite care for caregivers of injured post-9/11 veterans. The VA MISSION Act expands the program to veterans who fought in pre-9/11 conflicts, which would open the Caregivers program to thousands of Hawaii veterans and their caregivers.

Maintaining access to Native Hawaiian Health Centers: The VA MISSION Act includes a provision secured by Senator Hirono and supported by Papa Ola Lokahi to protect veterans’ access to care at Native Hawaiian Health Centers (NHHC), allowing veterans in Hawaii to continue to have the option to access care through NHHCs.

Improving access for all Hawaii VA patients: The bill preserves the quality of the existing VA system while also streamlining and improving existing programs that allow Hawaii veterans to seek care from community providers due to the absence of a full-service VA hospital in the state. The reforms to these programs were developed in consultation with Veteran Service Organizations and will help to ensure veterans can access quality care when they need it. 

The following organizations have endorsed the VA MISSION Act:

Veterans of Foreign Wars

The American Legion

Disabled American Veterans

Paralyzed Veterans of America

AMVETS

Vietnam Veterans of America

Military Officers Association of America

Wounded Warrior Project

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Military Order of the Purple Heart

Blinded Veterans Association

Elizabeth Dole Foundation

Fleet Reserve Association

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors

Code of Support Foundation

Non-Commissioned Officers Association

Marine Corps Reserve Association

AMSUS, The Society of Federal Health Professionals

Commissioned Officers Association of the U.S. Public Health Service

U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officers Association

The Retired Enlisted Association

U.S. Army Warrant Officers Association

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

America’s Warrior Partnership

Air Force Association

Air Force Sergeants Association

Air Force Women Officers Associated

Army Aviation Association of America

Association of the United States Navy

Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the U.S.

Gold Star Wives of America

Jewish War Veterans of the U.S.A.

Marine Corps League

The Military Chaplains Association of the U.S.A.

National Guard Association of the U.S.

National Military Family Association

Naval Enlisted Reserve Association

Reserve Officers Association

Service Women’s Action Network 

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