|October 1, 2003
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
|WASHINGTON, D.C.—FALEOMAVAEGA TESTIFIES BEFORE CARES COMMISSION TO URGE ESTABLISHMENT OF VA CLINIC IN AMERICAN SAMOA|
Faleomavaega announced today that he testified before the Capital Asset
Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) Commission and urged the Commissioners
to establish a VA clinic in American Samoa.
“The CARES Commission was created by the U.S. Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs to provide an independent assessment of what the VA’s needs may be during the next 20 years. One of the main priorities of the Commission is to make sure that underserved veterans will receive the care they deserve,” Congressman Faleomavaega said.
“Medical care for veterans residing in American Samoa comes under the jurisdiction of the VA Medical and Regional Office Center (VAMROC) in Honolulu, Hawaii and Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) 21 is responsible for the Honolulu VAMROC. VISN 21 includes Northern California, parts of Western Nevada, Hawaii, Guam, and American Samoa.”
“Today, the Commission held hearings in Livermore, California to give VISN 21 stakeholders a voice in the process and I testified before the Commission via live feed from the U.S. House of Representatives Recording Studio. A complete text of my written testimony can be downloaded from my Congressional website and a video of today’s hearing will also be made public,” the Congressman said.
“In brief, I expressed my disappointment that the VA has failed to provide American Samoa with one doctor, one nurse, or one clinic. I repeat, the VA has not provided American Samoa with one doctor, one nurse, one hospital, or one community-based outpatient clinic (CBOC) to care for our veterans and quite frankly I believe it is shameful that anyone could know of this problem and do nothing about it. For more than two years, VISN 21 and the Honolulu VAMROC have promised that they would establish a CBOC in American Samoa but this has not happened and I have now asked the Commission to intercede,” Congressman Faleomavaega said.
“Senator Inouye and Senator Akaka are supporting my efforts and joined with me in signing a letter to Mr. Everett Alvarez, Chairman of the Commission, asking him to make sure that a new CBOC for American Samoa is included in the final recommendations of the National CARES plan. The Honorable Chris Smith, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and the Honorable Lane Evans, Ranking Member, have also agreed to help. They, too, joined with me in signing a letter to Chairman Alvarez requesting that American Samoa’s CBOC be given the highest priority rating possible.”
“At my request, the U.S. Army Reserve has now agreed to provide a building for the clinic at no cost to the government and at no cost to the VA. I have submitted this letter of commitment to the CARES Commission and I have clearly stated that more than 5,000 veterans live in American Samoa and over 1,000 are enrolled in VA health care. Enrolled veterans are forced to travel more than 2,300 miles from American Samoa to the nearest VA facility in Honolulu, Hawaii to receive the medical care and attention they need. Considering that the Honolulu VAMROC spends over $1 million annually to fly American Samoa’s veterans to and from Honolulu or the mainland for vital medical care, there is no doubt that the establishment of a CBOC in American Samoa would be a wiser use of federal funds.”
“Seriously ill patients also should not be forced to travel long distances to receive VA health care,” Congressman Faleomavaega said. “While veterans living in American Samoa may seek local treatment at the LBJ Tropical Medical Center, it should be noted that this comes at the expense of the American Samoa Government. It should also be noted that the LBJ Tropical Medical Center was constructed in 1967 and its current standard of care is not in keeping with that required for ill and disabled veterans. LBJ’s medical equipment is outdated and its clinical staff is in need of further training to be able to meet veterans’ needs.”
“Given the distance involved and the limited commercial air service in and out of the Territory, the time has come for the VA to live up to its promises. American Samoa’s veterans deserve access to VA care like any other American who has ‘borne the battle.’ As a Vietnam veteran, I am painfully aware of the sacrifices that American Samoa’s veterans have made in defense of this nation. Only last month, one of American Samoa’s young sons was killed in Iraq and I accompanied his body home to American Samoa. Like others before him, like more to come, he gave his life so that we could live in freedom and I will not rest until the VA recognizes our sacrifices and does right by our veterans.”
“On November 30, 2003, the Commission will make its recommendations to the Secretary and by December 2003 the Secretary will determine what VA facilities will be funded in this country. For almost two years, the Secretary has placed a hold on construction of new facilities and every State and Territory is now competing for construction dollars. It is my understanding that about 250 VA facilities have been listed in the CARES National draft plan and American Samoa’s CBOC is among those listed. However, only about 47 facilities will be constructed and this is why American Samoa’s priority rating must be changed from 3 to 1.”
“I am hopeful after today’s testimony that the Commission now has a better understanding of our situation,” Congressman Faleomavaega said. “I am also hopeful that with the support of the Chairman and the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and also with the support of Hawaii’s Senators, that the Commission will seriously consider honoring the request we have made on behalf of American Samoa’s veterans.”
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