The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Tuesday that it is looking to buy land for a new facility on Maui that would consolidate services for veterans on the island.
Officials are hoping to acquire at least two to four acres of land for a community-based outpatient clinic, which would eventually bring together separate medical and mental health clinics and add a benefits office.
It’s part of a larger effort throughout the VA’s Pacific Island Health Care System to better serve the needs or veterans who live in rural or isolated areas far away from larger VA medical centers.
The agency has budgeted $15.8 million for the new project, which is expected to be about 15,000 square feet in size, according to Craig Oswald, senior facility planner for the regional agency.
On Maui, like many other islands in the Pacific, VA resources are spread across different facilities.
The new Maui facility would initially replace a medical clinic that the VA has leased in Kahului since 1988. Maui also has a counseling center, but personnel who handle benefits and paperwork are on Oahu.
The state of Hawaii also has its own Office of Veteran Services with its own office in Maui.
The need to navigate a network of facilities and offices has long been a source of confusion and frustration for some veterans.
“Essentially we got together with all the veterans in systems, we decided to create sort of what we call a one-stop shop where we would seek to build a facility that would have these different entities under the same roof,” said Oswald.
It’s a model the VA’s Pacific Island Health Care System is hoping to gradually adopt across the islands.
Headquartered at Tripler Army Medical Center, the agency is responsible for all veterans in Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
It has few facilities of its own, usually leasing or sharing them with the active-duty military.
Veterans have complained that the Spark M. Matsunaga VA Medical Center — which is on the grounds of Tripler — is often difficult to access for elderly and wounded veterans due to sparse parking.
Facing heavy demand for limited facilities, the VA has tried to lighten the burden through contracts and partnerships with civilian hospitals and clinics across the islands. However, the partnership programs have sometimes come with problems of their own.
In June Hawaii Congressman Ed Case announced the inclusion of $307 million for Rural Health Initiatives, a $7 million increase, in the draft version of Congress’ 2022 funding bill for the VA and military construction projects.
Oswald said that the VAPIHCS is considering a variety of development plans for the Maui facility, from empty plots to properties with existing buildings that could be renovated or expanded. The main limitation right now is that the site must be outside of the tsunami inundation zone.
Oswald said there are plans for similar “one-stop shops” on Kauai and on the Big Island in Hilo and Kona. He said Kona would likely be the last site as it doesn’t have any funding authorized yet.
Oahu is also seeing an expansion. In April, the agency announced that it will finally build its long-planned Advanced Leeward Outpatient Healthcare Access Project at Kalaeloa.
The ALOHA Project will provide primary care, mental health, women veterans care, physical therapy, dental, prosthetics and other services. The VA awarded $100 million to Hunt Companies, Inc. to manage development and construction.
The Pacific Islands system is also opening a new Windward VA community-based outpatient clinic at the Castle Medical Office Building to serve veterans along the Windward Coast from Kahuku to Waimanalo.
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Kevin Knodell reports on the military and veterans for Civil Beat as a corps member for Report For America, a national nonprofit that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover underreported topics.