LIHU‘E — On Presidents’ Day, U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono met with about 40 veterans at the Kaua‘i Veterans Center to listen to their various concerns on jobs, health and education.
“I’m here to hear what your concerns are; that’s the only way I can bring them to Washington,” Hirono told those gathered in Lihu‘e Monday afternoon.
The group brought to her several concerns, including employment, education, health benefits, as well as access to information, computer literacy and homelessness.
One of the veterans talked about the difficulty in going through the process of applying for benefits. Another veteran said the Veterans’ Administration is going paperless, so it’s important that all veterans have access to computers and know how to use them.
There are about 5,000 veterans on Kaua‘i.
But there is a 30-person limit on veterans who can receive housing assistance on the island, said Sharon Espina, chief medical officer at the Veterans Affairs, Kaua‘i Community-Based Outpatient Clinic.
Ryan Mable, from the U.S. Veterans Benefit Administration, said he was surprised by the cap and would look into the reason.
A veteran who was missing a leg asked Mable about getting help with crutches and prosthetics. He said he has been quoted the same law since 1972. Mable said he would inquire about that, and invited the veteran to provide additional information after the event.
Other issues brought up included boosting a veteran-to-farmer program and education opportunities at Kaua‘i Community College.
Perhaps one of the main issues was about improving communication, so veterans could be aware of what is available to them. As one of the veterans said, they could help each other by keeping a mailing list and building a network.
“It’s veterans helping veterans; that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
Hirono said she would put together a “to-do list” and bring it with her to Washington. She said she expects the Defense and the Veterans Affairs departments to work together to solve some of the issues that can be fixed.
Additionally, she said there is a whole new generation of veterans coming from Iraq and Afghanistan that will also need help.
AARP criticizes proposal
Also on Monday, one of the nation’s most powerful lobbying groups, AARP, criticized a proposal in Washington that could cut more than $101 million in benefits to Hawai‘i’s veterans over the next decade
Chained CPI, a measure of inflation created by the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, is not used by the federal government in its programs.
Although it was removed from the negotiations during the “fiscal cliff” deal in January, there is now a proposal in Congress to use it to calculate Social Security benefits, according to AARP, formerly known as the American Association for Retired Persons.
The chained CPI would change the calculation for the cost-of-living adjustment for veterans, reducing their benefit payments, according to AARP.
“Hawai‘i’s veterans and their families deserve our support and thanks for their services and sacrifices, not cuts to the benefits they have earned and rely upon,” AARP Hawai‘i State President Gerry Silva said in a press release.
Overall, the adoption of the chained CPI would take approximately $208 billion from current and near retirees, working families, veterans and the disabled over the next 10 years, according to AARP. In Social Security benefits alone, the cuts would amount to $112 billion during the same period, AARP states.
As far as the more than 3.2 million disabled veterans and another 2 million retired military, they would also see cuts in benefits, according to AARP.
“Permanently disabled veterans who started receiving disability benefits from the Veterans Administration at age 30 would see their benefits cut by more than $1,400 a year at age 45, $2,300 a year at age 55, and $3,200 a year at age 65,” AARP states.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.