Top VA official makes Hawaii visit to underscore commitment to vets, facilities upgrades
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A top official with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is on Oahu as part of a regional tour to understand the challenges of providing healthcare to veterans here.
Modernizing old facilities is one of the main priorities for VA Deputy Secretary Donald Remy and making sure veterans across the Pacific don’t have to leave the VA system to get quality care.
“You can’t provide the 21st century veteran the world class health care they deserve in 20th century facilities,” Remy said.
That’s why the new Daniel Kahikina Akaka VA Clinic is being billed a gamechanger.
It’s under construction and slated to open in 2024.
The newly signed PACT Act also includes funding for new VA facilities, but Remy could not say exactly where they would be built.
“We did market assessments across the country previously and examined where we needed facilities where we needed to beef up our infrastructure,” both physical and human, he said.
Remy says the VA has dramatically reduced the backlog of benefits claims and is working to decrease wait times for patients. The VA is also working to recruit and retain more healthcare workers, he said.
“They have the clinicians that know them the best because many of our clinicians are in fact veterans themselves,” he said.
Remy is visiting VA sites across Hawaii and Guam ― the first for a top VA official in four years.
He wants to see more vets get VA care.
Nationally, he said only about half of American veterans use their benefits ― less when you count vets outside of the United States.
In the Pacific, geography is a challenge in serving more than 100,000 vets, including many in remote areas. Transportation and telemedicine can help.
“We learned that we can reach veterans where they are we can provide them the care that they need, even if they are not coming into our facilities and so we can incorporate that into the care we provide into the future,” Remy said.
Other priorities: Help vets suffering from sexual violence and mental illness.
“Military sexual trauma, we recognize is an awful component of some and their veteran experience, their military experience, their active duty experience,” Remy said.
“We have resources available for anyone, male or female, that is the survivor of military sexual trauma incident or is in a domestic violence situation and we want those folks to reach out and get mental health counseling from VA, they can use our vet centers as well, that are available to those who are on active duty or may have received other than honorable discharges.”
By addressing mental health, the VA hopes to reduce veteran suicides.
Remy says the average suicide rate for veterans has been falling. Currently, more than 17 vets die by suicide each day, down from the 22-per-day statistic reported in 2012.
Aside from counseling and the nationwide crisis line 9-8-8, the VA is doing research on alternative medicines like marijuana as an option for veterans with post traumatic stress disorder.
For more information on VA benefits, click here.
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