‘We have to do better’

LIHUE — Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard met with about 40 veterans at the Kauai Veterans Center Monday to discuss what she described as “deep and systematic issues” affecting the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“It’s such a disservice and a travesty, really,” she said of veterans not getting the help and care they deserve. “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.”

For that reason, Gabbard organized a statewide tour to listen to concerned veterans and their families, as well as offer any help she could.

“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.”

One of the veterans who came out Monday was Jim Armstrong, who was injured in a parachuting accident in 1969. For the last 10 years, he said he has been wrapped up in the appeals process with the Veterans Benefits Administration. He called what is happening a crime and a shame. 

“This is for the young guys that aren’t here and the 8,000 that commit suicide every year,” he said. “And for the homeless and the hopeless veterans that I see every day that I know personally who have just given, who will not ask for an appeal.”

If it wasn’t for a supportive family, Armstrong said he likely would have been one of the 8,000. 

Evan Price served six years in the Navy and had three brothers also in the military. One brother lost his life. 

While he recognizes that the screening process to get into the system presents frustrations for veterans, he said he felt the VA does a good job on Kauai.

“On Kauai, you have an extraordinary team of competent professionals,” he said. “And they deliver extraordinary care.”

Gabbard also touched on how tough it has been to see all of the challenges in the news in recent weeks, including the resignation of Eric Shinseki, a native of Kauai, as secretary of the VA.

“We are where we are and we have to do better,” she said.

The priority, Gabbard said, is getting veterans immediate care. She sent a letter to President Barack Obama Monday requesting he use his executive authority to allow veterans to seek private care using their veteran ID cards. 

“Until we figure out how to fix the problems that exist, I think that the president should take action to make it so that those who need care get care today,” she said. “And that people are not told that they have to continue to wait.”

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