Kilili: Vets clinic study clears Senate, White House next

May 30, 2018

NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS – Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan reports that his language, mandating a feasibility study for a Department of Veterans Affairs-operated medical clinic in the Marianas, has passed the U.S. Senate as part of the VA Mission Act of 2018. The House passed the bill on May 16, so the next step is for the President to sign the measure into law. The Marianas is the only state or territory in America without a VA clinic. Making sure that Marianas veterans have access locally to the specialized care that a VA clinic can provide is one of Sablan’s top priorities.

“Our veterans in the Marianas deserve their own Community-Based Outpatient Clinic,” Congressman Sablan said. “Guam has a CBOC. Hawai’i veterans have CBOCs on Kauai, Maui, the Big Island. Even American Samoa has its own Community-Based Outpatient Clinic.

“And that is what I want for our veterans, too: a full-time, VA-staffed clinic with dedicated healthcare providers.”

Kilili has attached language to three different legislative vehicles in this Congress to authorize a clinic feasibility study.

“Now that both the House and the Senate have passed the VA Mission Act – and the bill is on the way to President—it looks like we are going to get across the finish line,” added Congressman Sablan.

The work to improve veterans' healthcare began with the award of a grant for an outreach clinic on Saipan in 2009, Congressman Sablan’s first year in office. He was concerned about veterans on Rota and Tinian, however, who still had to travel for care.

Over the ensuing years, Kilili became a voice for veterans in remote areas all over America. Rising awareness of the difficulty of getting to a VA clinic for veterans living hundreds of miles away or who could only reach a clinic by plane, eventually led to creation of the national Choice program. With Choice, veterans could go to a local healthcare provider and the Veterans Administration would pay.

To raise awareness of the Choice program—among both veterans and healthcare providers in the Marianas—Congressman Sablan arranged for the CEO of TriWest, one of the companies that manages Choice for the VA, to come to Saipan, Tinian, and Rota last year. As a result, the number of Choice providers tripled and veterans gained greater access to care.

Obtaining a full-scale VA clinic, however, will first require a feasibility study to justify the expense of a building and the on-going costs of staffing and operation.

“I know the word ‘study’ is sometime interpreted to mean delay,” Congressman Kilili said.

“But this is the way federal government works. This is how we got the AAFES troop store expansion. First, I put the study in the National Defense Authorization Act to justify the cost. Then, when the study gave the green light, we were able to get funding.”

Prior to getting his clinic study language into the VA Mission Act, Sablan was also able to include it in H.R. 4243, the VA Asset and Infrastructure Review Act of 2017, and H.R. 4242, the VA Care in the Community Act. Though introduced by the Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, those bills have not passed the House.

“I have learned you have to be persistent and have a Plan B… and a Plan C,” said Kilili. “That is how to get things done in Congress for the people you work for.”