October 05, 2022

PHOTOS & VIDEO: Hirono Hosts VA Secretary Denis McDonough for Field Hearing, Meetings with Veterans on Oahu

HONOLULU, HI – Today, Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, hosted a series of events focused on discussing the state of veterans’ affairs (VA) resources and programs in Hawaii. Senator Hirono started the day chairing a field hearing of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee at the Oahu Veterans Center, highlighting some of the challenges Hawaii veterans face, including access to health care, education, housing, and other benefits.

“It is clear that our veterans and the larger VA community face numerous challenges,” said Senator Hirono. “But my colleagues and I on the Veterans Affairs Committee are committed to strengthening the VA and helping to ensure all of our veterans can access the resources and support they need and deserve. In partnership with Secretary McDonough and his colleagues at the VA, we will continue working to ensure our veterans and their loved ones receive the care they’ve earned, and provide VA with the resources and support it needs to continue delivering for our veterans.” 

During the hearing, Senator Hirono questioned U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough about the progress that has been made under his leadership and the Biden Administration, including the recent passage of the PACT Act, as well as the work ahead to better support the many challenges veterans in Hawaii continue to face. As of 2020, there were over 113,000 veterans in Hawaii, comprising over 10 percent of Hawaii’s adult population. Following the Secretary’s testimony, Senator Hirono questioned a second panel of witnesses, which included local veterans, as well as leadership from the Hawaii Office of Veterans’ Services and other local organizations.

“There are an estimated 113,000 Veterans in Hawaii, and our shared mission—at VA, in Congress, and as a nation—is to serve every one of those Veterans as well as they’ve served our country,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough. “We at VA look forward to continuing to partner with Senator Hirono to deliver world-class health care and benefits to Hawaii Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors.”

After the hearing, Senator Hirono and Secretary McDonough hosted a roundtable with student veterans at the University of Hawaii’s Manoa campus to discuss challenges student veterans face and how the VA and higher education institutions can better support them. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 895,000 student veterans attend colleges and universities nationwide, including 17,000 in Hawaii. 

“VA education benefits are meant to help our veterans transition to the classroom after their service, but too many still struggle to obtain higher education or job skills,” said Senator Hirono. “Barriers like student debt, child care affordability, and a lack of access to mental health resources prevent many of our veterans from being able to complete their degrees or job training programs. I enjoyed hearing from student veterans and administrators at UH about the programs and resources they have developed to address these challenges and support student veterans on campus, and I hope VA and other schools can look to UH as a model for ensuring student veteran success.”

Later today, Senator Hirono and Secretary McDonough will visit the Windward VA Clinic, which provides medical care to veterans on Oahu. Earlier this year, Senator Hirono introduced and helped pass legislation to name the new VA clinic under construction in Kapolei after the late Senator Daniel K. Akaka, who first conceived of and championed the clinic.

“VA clinics provide critical physical and mental health care to our veterans and many of their loved ones,” said Senator Hirono. “As we work to ensure every veteran can access the timely, quality care they deserve, expanding the capacity of VA’s network of clinics is crucial. That’s why I’m glad construction of the new Daniel K. Akaka VA clinic in Kapolei is well underway. When completed, the Akaka VA Clinic will serve veterans from across Hawaii and throughout the Pacific, improving VA’s ability to care for all of our veterans.”

A link to download photos and videos from today’s events is available here.

As a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Senator Hirono has consistently worked to support veterans in Hawaii and across the country. Earlier this year, she led her colleagues in calling on the VA to begin offering abortion services following the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Last month, Secretary McDonough announced that VA would heed that call and begin offering abortion services in cases of rape, incest, or the life and health of the mother. In August, Senator Hirono helped pass the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act—comprehensive, bipartisan legislation to expand VA health care for veterans with health conditions related to burn pit and Agent Orange exposure. In March, she helped pass in the Senate bipartisan legislation to expand access to breast cancer screening and care for veterans. Last month, Senator Hirono also announced that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) awarded $1.5 million in federal funding to Hawaii to support veterans’ suicide prevention efforts. In February, she sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Defense and U.S. VA Secretary to voice concerns about the failures within the Department of Defense (DoD) to screen for and prevent suicide amongst transitioning servicemembers.