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Tulsi Gabbard and Ed Case introduce proposal to extend health care coverage to Pacific Island veterans

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BRUCE ASATO / FEB. 2

Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard makes her announcement that she is running for president in 2020, at the Great Lawn of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort in Waikiki.

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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / 2018

Ed Case at his campaign headquarters in Kalihi when he was running for U.S. Congress.

U.S. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Ed Case are among a group of congressional representatives who introduced the Compact of Free Association (COFA) Veterans Review Act on Wednesday, seeking to extend healthcare coverage to veterans in the Pacific Islands.

The bill requires the Secretary of Veteran Affairs to carry out a three-year pilot program providing hospital care and medical services to veterans living in the Freely Associated States, which include Palau, Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia.

“Veterans have answered the call and put their lives on the line in service to our nation,” said Gabbard in a news release. “Our nation owes a debt of gratitude and must ensure they get the care they earned and deserve, no matter where they live, The COFA Veterans Review Act is a first step toward ensuring our country fulfills its commitment to care for all our veterans.”

Under COFA, treaties that were partially established as compensation for the loss of life, health and land due to numerous nuclear weapons tests on the Marshall Islands and Bikini and Enewetak atolls issued by the U.S. from 1946 to 1958.

Citizens of the Marshall Island, Palau and Micronesia are allowed to live and legally work in the U.S. without a visa, and granted access to social and health services.

However, many veterans in the Pacific Islands do not have access to VA health care facilities and are forced to pay significant sums of money out of pocket for travel to get health care, according to Alaska Congressman Don Young.

Additionally, the act requires the VA secretary to update census information on the number of veterans residing in the Freely Associated States and conduct a study on the feasibility of establishing permanent facilities there.

“A promise made to our service members should be a promise kept,” Case said. “That applies equally to all those who answered the call to duty from the island states of the Compacts of Free Association. If they need to access the medical care promised, then we need to assure they are not prevented from doing so by the time and cost of travel to the care they need.”

American Samoa Congresswoman Aumua Amata, Guam Congressman Michael San Nicolas, and Young introduced the act, along with Gabbard and Case.

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