Senators seek more compensation for region's veterans

by Frank F. Blas, Jr.

Senator Frank F. Blas Jr. has introduced a resolution seeking federal legislation that would give a helping hand to veterans living on Guam and other geographically-disadvantaged areas.

Resolution No. 302-33 was co-sponsored by Senators V. Anthony Ada, Thomas C. Ada and Frank Blas Aguon Jr. The bi-partisan resolution urges Congress to introduce and adopt legislation that would create a special category that provides increased compensation for our veterans.

“The current level of service rendered by the Federal government to our veterans is not only a disservice to the American veterans who chose to reside on Guam and other geographically-challenged regions such as the CNMI, the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshal Islands and American Samoa, but a disservice to all those American veterans who have fought for our freedom,” Senator Blas said. “Although for many years our region’s veterans have waited patiently for the treatment and services afforded to their comrades elsewhere, their patience should no longer be taken for granted.”

Senator V. Anthony Ada, a U.S. Army veteran, further stated that these regions have men and women who have dedicated their lives to United States of America. He said, “Our men and women have given unselfishly and patriotically of themselves so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today. Although we will never have the opportunity to repay those who have gone before us the debt we owe for their ultimate sacrifice, we can begin to make good for those who are still with us.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides monthly benefits to veterans in recognition of the effects of disabilities, diseases, or injuries incurred or aggravated during active military service. The compensation is a tax-free monetary benefit paid to veterans with disabilities and the benefit amount is graduated according to the degree of the veteran's disability rating on a scale from 10 percent to 100 percent (in increments of 10 percent). Compensation may also be paid for disabilities that are considered related or secondary to disabilities occurring in service and for disabilities presumed to be related to circumstances of military service, even though they may arise after service. Generally, the degrees of disability rating specified are also designed to compensate for considerable loss of working time from exacerbations or illnesses.

Senator Blas noted that since 1988, Guam has been classified as a medically underserved area by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Senator Blas added that “this classification recognizes that our healthcare system does not have the ability and full capability of meeting our island’s healthcare needs. While the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has taken great strides to increase and improve the services for veterans, many of these services are not available in our region and for this reason our veterans often have to travel by air, thousands of miles from their homes, to obtain their medical assistance from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Senator Aguon, who is presently a Lieutenant Colonel with the Guam Air National Guard, said “although their treatment and even airfare is funded by the U.S. government, there are numerous other costs associated with obtaining off-island medical treatment while maintaining their residences on their islands. While generally the disability rating that a veteran receives is tied to the mental or physical disability he suffers from, the time difference and distance that a veteran from our region has to travel to access services should be recognized as an additional factor that the veteran has to contend with.”

Senator Blas said that as a result of the concerns expressed by the Senators, most especially the financial burden uniquely facing our veterans, “we are urging Congress to introduce legislation that would allow for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to include an additional percentage to their determined benefit amount in order to compensate our veterans for the costs associated with obtaining treatment that is routinely available for all other U.S. veterans not living in geographically-disadvantaged areas.” Senator Blas adds that the legislation should include language that ensures that veterans who later relocate away from their previously geographically-disadvantaged area will no longer receive the additional benefit.

The idea for the legislation was discussed by the four sponsors with Ms. Karen Gooden, Director of the Honolulu Regional Office for the VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration, during her recent visit to the island. Senators Blas and Aguon presented the idea to Virginia Congressman Rob Wittman and Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo during the Congressman’s visit to Guam. Furthermore, Blas briefed various executive branch officials from the CNMI, Palau, and the FSM while participating in the Micronesian Chief’s Executive Summit held in Palau last month. “I am very encouraged with the positive feedback from every official I pitched the idea to,” Blas stated. Blas went on to say, “While I recognize that the resolution still has to deliberated and adopted in the Guam Legislature, I have received assurances from Congresswoman Bordallo that she will work closely with us to address this matter.”

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