Today, the U.S. Senate advanced the most sweeping veterans legislation in decades, the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014 (S. 1982), a bill to authorize wide ranging services and programs that support our veterans and their families. U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D- Hawai"i) hailed the bill as it moves one step closer to final passage.
"The VA has an enormous job in Hawai"i, caring for veterans and their families living on all the neighbor islands and across the Asia Pacific. This veterans bill would help authorize a major new VA medical facility -- the ALOHA Center -- that would double VA clinical services on Oahu -- helping Hawai"i veterans get the timely care they need," said U.S. Senator Brian Schatz. "We ask those who serve to make enormous sacrifices for our country. In return, we have a responsibility to make sure that veterans have access to the benefits they've earned and the care they need when they come home. The legislation the Senate is considering is the most comprehensive veterans bill in decades. It would help give the VA the resources it needs to ensure our promise to all those veterans and their families."
To help Hawai"i's veterans, the bill would:
Authorize the VA to enter into a $15.88 million lease for a major medical facility --the Advance Leeward Outpatient Healthcare Access Center (ALOHA) -- in the Ewa Plain of Oahu. Once completed, the 118,000 net usable square-foot ALOHA Center will double the VA's existing clinical capacity on Oahu, helping veterans get the timely care they need by alleviating the demand for existing services at the Spark M. Matsunaga VA Medical Center at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu.
The facility is initially expected to provide care to 15,000 veterans, with enrollment growing annually as more veterans visit from the North Shore and the center of the island.
Improve veterans' health care, educational benefits for both veterans and their survivors, and caregivers benefits for spouses who care for disabled veterans;
Enhance the claims processing process to ensure that veterans are not waiting to receive their benefits, helping to improve the backlog of claims afflicting Hawai"i's veterans; and
Require the VA to develop a strategic plan for improving access and quality of health care services for veterans in rural areas -- including leveraging telemedicine technologies that are already in demonstration use in Hawai"i -- ensuring that the VA makes good on its promise to care for the veterans on the neighbor islands.
It addition to supporting Hawai"i's veterans, the bill would support national policy initiatives that Senator Schatz has strongly supported, such as expanding care for victims of military sexual trauma and honoring as veterans members of the Reserve component of the military--ensuring recognition of the selfless contributions that National Guardsmen and Reservists make in their service to our country.
The bill would also require the VA to work with the Department of Defense to review the process for identifying Filipino veterans, who fought alongside American soldiers during World War II, and determine their eligibility for veterans' benefits.