Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that the Honorable Anthony J. Principi, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, has approved Faleomavaega’s request to establish a VA clinic in American Samoa.
“The Secretary announced his decision on May 7, 2004 and I will be meeting on June 24, 2004 with Dr. Wiebe, Director of VISN 21, which is the Veterans Integrated Service Network responsible for California, Nevada, Hawaii, Guam and American Samoa,” Congressman Faleomavaega said.
“On April 26, 2004, I briefed Major General Joseph G. Webb, Jr., Commander of the Pacific Regional Medical Command and the Lead Agent for TRICARE Pacific on my efforts to establish a clinic in American Samoa. Dr. Wiebe was also present for these discussions which took place in American Samoa during the April recess, or district work period.”
“I am pleased that I was able to take General Webb and Dr. Wiebe on a tour of the butler building which the 9th Regional Support Command has agreed to turn over for our use,” Faleomavaega continued. “I am also pleased that General Webb and Dr. Wiebe were able to see first-hand the needs of our local veterans.”
“Most of all, I am thankful that Secretary Principi has agreed that a VA community based outpatient clinic (CBOC) should be established in American Samoa. Only 156 new CBOCs will be established and one of those will be for our veterans,” Congressman Faleomavaega said.
“Recognizing that resources are not available to open all of these clinics immediately, the VA will establish the new CBOCs by using criteria within the existing approval process. This includes sound business plans and the capacity to manage specialty referrals and inpatient needs of a new population.”
“Given our immediate need and the arrangements we have in place with the U.S. Army Reserve, I am hopeful that VISN 21 and Dr. Wiebe will be able to act quickly on the establishment of our clinic,” the Congressman said. “At this time, I want to thank the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) Commission which included American Samoa in its recommendations to the Secretary.”
“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.”
“On October 1, 2003, I testified before the CARES Commission via live satellite feed from the U.S. House of Representatives to urge the establishment of a VA clinic in American Samoa and to request that our clinic be given the highest priority rating possible,” Congressman Faleomavaega said. “In my statement, I informed the Commission that I had worked closely with General John Ma, Commanding General of the 9th Regional Support Command, to secure a building at no cost to the VA.”
“The building that we agreed should be used for a VA clinic is the butler building which currently houses our PX. The butler building is 3,600 sq. ft., equipped with telehealth lines, and there are separate entrances and parking lots that can be further separated if necessary. The U.S. Army Reserve has agreed to reconfigure the building to VA needs and transfer its operations when our new $20 million U.S. Army Reserve Center is completed by October of this year.”
“Mr. David Burge, Director of the Honolulu VA Medical and Regional Office Center (VAMROC), and Dr. Wiebe have estimated that construction costs to renovate the building will be approximately $1 million. The VA and DoD will assume all costs associated with the renovation and, once converted, the clinic will be used to serve Army Reservists as well as our veterans,” Congressman Faleomavaega said.
“As I stated in my testimony before the Commission, more than 5,000 veterans live in American Samoa but only about 800 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.”
“As a Vietnam veteran, I am painfully aware of the sacrifices that American Samoa’s veterans have made in defense of this nation, and I do not believe we are asking for the moon when we ask for a VA clinic to be established in American Samoa. Like every other American who has ‘borne the battle,’ our veterans deserve access to quality VA care. We deserve to have at least one doctor, one nurse, and a clinic to serve our veterans and I am pleased that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the CARES Commission agrees with me and has made a favorable recommendation for the establishment of a CBOC in American Samoa.”
“Although there was some question about whether or not we had enough veterans to qualify for the establishment of a CBOC, the CARES Commission set aside VA claims that we may have as few as 800 veterans and simply stated that it agrees that a CBOC should be established in American Samoa in collaboration with the Department of Defense. This news comes after years of hard work, ups and downs, and twists and turns,” the Congressman said. “For almost two years, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs has placed a hold on construction of new facilities and every State and Territory is now competing for construction dollars.”
“Last year, about 242 VA facilities were listed in the CARES National Draft plan and American Samoa’s CBOC was among those listed. Initially, we had a priority rating of 3 because we have less than 7,000 veterans. Because of our remote location and lack of VA care, I asked the Commission to raise our rating from priority 3 to priority 1 before publishing its final recommendations.”
“I also asked for American Samoa’s CBOC to be included in the Commission’s final report to the Secretary. Senator Inouye, Senator Akaka, the Honorable Chris Smith, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and the Honorable Lane Evans, Ranking Member, supported my efforts and joined with me in signing letters to Mr. Everett Alvarez, Chairman of the CARES Commission, requesting the same.”
“On February 13, 2004, the Commission released its report and, as I announced in a press release dated February 14, 2004, our CBOC was included in its final recommendations. The Commission made a nationwide decision to dismiss the VA priority ratings of 1, 2, and 3 and thereby cleared the way for the establishment of CBOCs in rural areas like American Samoa that have less than 7,000 veterans.”
“In turn, Secretary Principi included our clinic on his list of 156 and I am hopeful that with his support VISN 21 will now move to improve health care for American Samoa’s veterans,” the Congressman said. “As I have said time and time again, our men and women have served in record numbers in every U.S. military engagement from WWII to present operations in Iraq. We have stood by the United States in good times and bad and I am pleased that Secretary Principi has made it clear that it is time to do right by American Samoa’s veterans.”
“I thank Secretary Principi for his support. I also thank the CARES Commission, Senator Inouye, Senator Akaka, Chairman Chris Smith and Ranking Member Lane Evans of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Dave Burge, General Webb, and General John Ma for their support and commitment throughout this process.”
“Again, I thank the Commission for the opportunity I had to testify and submit supporting documentation for consideration, including a Senate Concurrent Resolution from the American Samoa Legislature dated March 28, 2001. I also thank American Samoa’s veterans and our active duty service members for their support. I applaud them for their military service and I continue to wish them and their families the very best,” the Congressman concluded.