Thursday, May 8, 2008

Veterans' voices

Hawaii veterans told lawmakers yesterday on Moloka'i that they want to see more technical support from government agencies to assist with completing and submitting necessary paperwork to access entitled benefits and services. Due to the high volume of work and small numbers of service providers, some veterans have had to wait as long as five years before receiving any benefits.

"This is ludicrous that the current system can take up to five years...," said Rep. Mele Carroll, State Representative of E. Maui, Kaho'olawe, Lana'i and Moloka'i. "It's time that we take action and provide the essential services our veterans deserve."

Yesterday was the first meeting of a statewide initiative to address the concerns of Hawaii veterans on all islands and to commence dialogue on ways that state and private agencies can be more effective in meeting the needs of all veterans.

More than 50 veterans were joined by Reps. Cindy Evans, Committee on Public Safety & Military Chair, and Mele Carroll, co-introducers of a resolution that called for the statewide meetings. Rep. Evans will be hosting several meetings across the state.

"It is important that legislators hear from the veterans so we can determine if, through law or advocacy, we can make a difference for those who served our country," said Rep. Evans.

One of the questions that lawmakers want answered is whether the Hawaii State Office of Veterans Services is doing an effective job in handling the affairs of Hawaii veterans and whether their responsibilities should be transferred to another state agency.

Obtaining timely support from service officers was a repetitive concern throughout the meeting. One suggestion was to add an accessible hotline number with a live person on the other end, assisting and providing customer service. Director of the Office of Veterans Services Mark Moses said that the agency is currently training roving service officers to visit Maui, Moloka'i and Lana'i on set schedules to offer on-the-spot outreach and technical support.

Housing for veterans experiencing hardship and displacement was another major topic of interest at the meeting.

Other veteran suggestions included providing legal services to appeal the process, offering veterans Hawaii collegiate scholarships, replacing deteriorating cement headstones with bronze or marble headstones, and housing veterans experiencing hardship and displacement.
Photo (top right): Rep. Mele Carroll on Moloka'i discussing ways to improve Hawaii's veteran service system with island veterans.
Photo (top left): Rep. Cindy Evans addresses a group of veterans on Moloka'i and listens to their concerns regarding state agency service in Hawaii.

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