Vets raise concerns during Shinseki's visit - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Vets raise concerns during Shinseki's visit

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - While Veterans Affairs secretary Eric Shinseki was on Guam for the dedication ceremony of the Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Agana Heights, island veterans used the secretary's brief visit to relay pressing concerns they hope will be addressed.

Dozens of island veterans are hopeful that Shinseki's visit will not be in vain. "We want these problems resolved. We don't want excuses anymore. We want the things fixed," noted Art Mesa. "The federal government doesn't have a problem coming here and getting recruits to go fight in battles, they need to take care of the veterans when they come back."

Aside from coming to cut the ribbon on the $5.4 million clinic, veterans like Mesa are hoping secretary Shinseki will address four major areas of concern: access to care off-island, staffing issues at the clinic such as the need for mental health professionals, expansion of the current clinic and adequate outreach, especially for homebound vets. "For major surgery we would much rather go to the Philippines than Hawaii," Mesa added. "It's cheaper for our family members so if you're having major surgery, you ought to take a family member with you and it's closer."

But Secretary Shinseki says until the law is changed, veterans on Guam have no choice than to have medical procedures performed in Hawaii rather than the Philippines. "We do look at it, but today if I'm correct here we are restrained by the law because of Philippines being a foreign country we don't have that authority today, but it's something we look at. There have been many improvements to healthcare in many of these other parts of the Pacific Region - we'll definitely look at that," he promised.

Mesa continued, "There's always been a shortage. We're having a major problem with Mental Health. We need another psychiatrist. We need mental health professionals in here."

As for veterans' concerns about the new clinic not being fully staffed, the secretary says it's something they're already working to address. "The staff here is being more than doubled because we have increased the authorization we're in the process of hiring.  I think you were at ten originally and today we're at eighteen, and we continue to hire probably go to twenty-three, so there is going to be a significant increase," said Shinseki.

Ramona Longa asked the secretary to address the concerns of female veterans like herself. "[I] want to be that voice to the female veterans, but also to the families of these veterans who have gone," she expressed. The secretary responded, "I share your concern about whether we're doing enough for women veterans. That's been a longstanding concern of mine, especially now that we know that our population of women veterans in the next ten years is going to increase significantly and what we're trying to do is get ahead of what we will know will be a surge."

The secretary says he is using his visit on Guam as a listening tour to hear the veterans' concerns and stressed that his goals are to expand access to VA benefits and services, reduce claims backlog and automate the process, and put an end to homeless veterans in the next three years. 

Shinseki added that they will look at expanding the new state of the art clinic, noting, "I will tell you, that's something we live with in VA. We have a growing population, so I'm sensitive to that. We will continue to depend greatly on our partnership with the Navy to Admiral Bushong and Captain Haus, thanks for the great working relationship."

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