Though it’s only been two short years since the inception of the Rural Health Outreach Program for Veterans, they have fulfilled more than 600 appointments with veterans — many who would be without care otherwise. Through the program, veterans are able to see either a physician or a licensed practical nurse for their primary health care needs in three locations on the Hawaii Island, four days a week.
Now, never is a veteran further than 50 miles from care on Hawaii Island. Veterans are able to receive treatment both Mondays and Thursdays at the Ocean View Community Center, Tuesdays in a room at the Old Kohala Courthouse in Kapa’au, or Fridays in Waimea at New Hope Christian Fellowship.
“Access to care is what it is all about,” said Dr. Ann Cox, who works in the Rural Health Outreach for Veterans.
Dr. Cox said that with their vast array of medical needs, many veterans are unable to sit long enough to make the long trip to Kona or Hilo for treatment, so the rural programs are a critical component to healthcare. Recent veterans from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the Persian Gulf War, Vietnam and the Korean War are beginning to take advantage of this unique offering.
“This is a brand new, innovative approach to enhance access to veterans. It’s been extremely successful and now we can see more can be done,” said Tom Driscoll, rural health outreach coordinator of Veterans Affairs of Pacific Health Care System. Driscoll said that part of the “more” to be done, resulted in a recent proposal to Washington D.C. for an added two positions on both Kauai and in Kona so mental health needs may be supported.
In addition, a proposal was developed to follow a similar model in both Guam and American Samoa. Recently in the nation’s capital, lawmakers announced a $17 billion deal for the Veterans Affairs system. Optimism looks for more of these monies to find their way to the islands and far-reaching places.
Dr. Cox said that finding donated space in communities was initially a challenge and she, along with the Veterans Affairs Pacific Islands Health Care System, is very grateful for the spaces being provided.
Veteran’s Affairs has an extensive history in the United States. The Veteran’s Health Association dates back to March 3, 1865, when President Abraham Lincoln endorsed medical care for both discharged soldiers and sailors. Though limited to Union Army soldiers and Navy volunteers, a sort of asylum was provided a month before the Civil War ended. Looking back even further, the benefits system traces its roots back close to 400 years ago when the pilgrims of Plymouth Colony were at odds with the Pequot Indians. A law was put into affect where the colony supported disabled soldiers.
Today’s Veterans Affairs rural outreach efforts continue to follow the legacy, seeking to provide a similar support. Rural outreach on our islands is part of a larger story, too. The strategic direction targets enhanced services to rural and highly rural areas. Determined by geography and the amount of veterans per square mile ratio, outside of Honolulu, much of the Hawaiian Islands is considered rural.
Having a stable, consistent and local offices where veterans can receive a medical evaluation and treatment is being met by caring physicans such as Dr. Cox. Whether previously enrolled for services or not, all veterans are welcome. Appointments may be made by calling the Kona Veterans Affairs office at 331-4540, or just by walking in to any of the locations between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on their designated days.