By Lee Webber
Veteran issues and care on Guam and throughout Micronesia have been an ongoing source of overwhelming questions for as long as I can recall. The last handful of months have brought more attention to this issue but it still falls far short of Philippine, Hawaii and mainland services.
Because our very freedom depends on the service of those who sign their name and place their life on the line to defend our nation, it is a right and just responsibility of the protected to care for those who have risked (and at times) given their all in the defense of our nation.
While some may argue that the cost of such long-term extended care is too great, the loss of our very freedom as a nation is far greater.
In this day and age, when less than one percent of the population is volunteering to protect the other 99+ percent, it makes getting this through the sometimes-thick skulls of the protected a real challenge.
Add to this to the fact that clearly the vast majority of elected officials, locally and nationally, have never served in any branch of our armed forces (much less served in combat and the task of ensuring adequate), proper and just long-term care can become a real daunting challenge.
One of the issues facing us in this challenge is the reality that most of those elected and appointed officials tasked with making the decisions regarding this long-term veteran care issue do not fully understand the enormity and realities of the impact (physically and mentally) that combat service in the military has on an individual.
This further complicates their decision-making ability and frustrates the veterans.
There are so many veteran issues in our local community it is difficult to decide where to begin.
The largest issue in my mind is the real need to get all local veterans to properly register themselves with the VA.
Until we get the number of actual veterans increased equal to the level of actual veterans living here and in Micronesia, we are fighting a severe uphill battle.
We really need the numbers to justify the necessary expansion and improvement of expanded and improved service.
The next issue is that current veteran status adjudication is now done in Hawaii.
For me it is difficult to understand why veteran status adjudication is handled in the Philippines but not on Guam. Again, instinct tells me this is a result of not having enough residents’ veterans (voters) registered with the local VA.
It is my understanding that the Philippine adjudication center was originally established for the Philippine Scouts and the majority, if not all of them, have passed on.
Another key issue of veteran care on Guam is the size of the existing veteran center located adjacent to U.S. Naval Hospital Guam. While very conveniently located next to the hospital it is far too small for the number of veterans on Guam today and into the future. Plus, the staff is far too small to handle the load.
As noted in the past, there are supposedly seven authorized slots for psychiatrists but only two are filled. The center is also short on medical care providers as well as social workers. We haven’t even touched support staff.
Please understand that the existing staff members themselves are great and very helpful folks, there are simply far too few of them given the present and future needs of island veterans. Add this shortage reality coupled with the turnover rate and the problems only worsen.
So, what can be done to improve this situation?
Well, if you listen to politicians, they are doing all they can to help veterans get improved services. Somehow, I am finding that hard to swallow.
Think for a moment if the veterans these politicians claim to be working so hard to get service for had worked equally as hard to initially secure their freedom to run for office, they would be working fields under some other form of government.
Or, maybe if those fighting for our freedoms today worked equally as hard as these talking heads to maintain our freedoms, we’d all be dressing differently.
In reality, all those elected and appointed officials wouldn’t be living in a free society thereby enabling them to live off the backs of the military men and women who have and continue to fight for their freedom so they can spew their hot air and run for office in a free society.
In short, they wouldn’t have the positions of authority they presently occupy at taxpayer expense.
From my perspective it is high time these elected officials stop talking about what they ‘want to do” or “plan to do” and simply do it!
The only thing standing between veterans getting the services they truly deserve and the actual services are the actual decisions of these elected and appointed officials.
If they cannot make their words come to life they need to step aside.
Helps us make Guam better for the veterans who gave their all to keep us free.
Lee P. Webber is a businessman and civic advocate, the former publisher of the Pacific Daily News, a former president and publisher of the Honolulu Advertiser, and a former director of operations for USA Today International/Asia