Aid for Hawaii veterans getting better, still room for improvement

Last year, KHON2 News first reported about Hawaii topping the list in the country with longest wait time for new veteran patients.

A survey revealed new patients in Hawaii wait an average of 145 days to get an appointment at the Spark M. Matsunaga VA Medical Center.

In the year since the news broke, several organizations have banded together to ensure those who serve our country never have to deal with this problem again.

“Hawaii was one of the worst of the worst at that time,” said American Legion Executive Director Verna Jones. “We knew veterans needed help.”

“As a result of that, you have this frustration and stigma that’s developed,” explained Rustan Tongg with community organization The Veterans Movement. “That’s what putting together Vet Aid 2015 is all about.”

Organizers said 500 veterans attended the fair Saturday, held at the Oahu Veterans Center in Salt Lake. They hope to build trust with veterans and let them know they can get the help they deserve.

“The fact that people didn’t know there was a secret wait list …. we couldn’t do anything about it,” Jones said. “Organizations like the American Legion couldn’t. It was being hidden … totally unethical and unfair.

“Some of them were dying before they could get an appointment. Now that we know, we can band together with the VA and talk more about what’s going on.”

The American Legion, along with other groups, helped more veterans get the benefits they need and deserve.

“We’re on the right track,” said Jones, “but there’s so much to be done. But it’s nowhere as bad as it was last year around this time.”

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