With the recent resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, veterans’ health care issues are fresh in the American psyche, and in the forefront of discussion among members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation.

Tulsi Gabbard, Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono are all voicing their concern for Hawaii veterans, after it was revealed that veterans were put on long waiting lists to receive health care and that officials covered up the delays.

In response, Congress has drafted the Ensuring Veterans Access to Care Act 2014. Schatz and Hirono have pledged their support for the Act, which promises to cut wait times, make health care more accessible and create better facilities.

Gabbard at Civil Rights talk

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard plans a statewide “listening tour” to hear about veterans’ concerns.

On Tuesday, Schatz became a co-sponsor of the act, which calls for a new VA medical facility in Oahu.

“Veterans facing long wait times to see a doctor and access health care is inexcusable,” Schatz said in a press release. “Our bill will make VA executives more accountable, cut wait times, and establish a major new VA medical facility on Oahu that would double VA clinical services on the island, helping make sure Hawaii veterans get the timely care they deserve.”

Hirono also gave her support in a press release on Tuesday, saying it would authorize spending $15,887,370 for the Leeward Oahu VA Outpatient Healthcare Access Center. In addition she said the Act would help bring in more doctors and allow for removal of incompetent senior officials.

“The Ensuring Veterans Access to Care Act is a step toward upholding the commitment our nation has made to caring for our veterans and I hope that the Senate can put partisan politics aside to pass this bill quickly,” Hirono said.

A veteran who served in the Middle East, Gabbard said she wrote President Barack Obama asking him to allow veterans to seek private medical care outside of the VA system.

“What the President and the VA have done so far to deal with this crisis is insufficient because it still leaves the health and well-being of our veterans in the hands of a broken system,” Gabbard said in a press release Monday.

The same day, Gabbard spoke at the Kauai Veterans Center about the “broken system.”

“Unfortunately, a lot of lip service is often paid around Memorial Day and around Veterans Day and other times about how grateful people are for your service,” she said. “And then we end up in situations like this, where we realize it is just lip service.”

Instead, Gabbard said she wants to focus on listening.  She has organized a state-wide “listening tour” to hear veterans’ concerns.

“It’s such a disservice and a travesty, really,” she said. “This is our family. These are our brothers and sisters, for many different conflicts, for many different generations and eras. And our nation has a duty and a responsibility to do better.”

The Ensuring Veterans Access to Care Act would take an initial step toward better health care by “authorizing” actions. How the legislation would actually impact Hawaii  veterans remains to be seen.

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