Murkowski, Schatz Reintroduce Bipartisan Bill to Expand Health Care to Veterans Living in Freely Associated States

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) reintroduced legislation to expand health care to veterans living in the freely associated states (FAS), three sovereign nations that have a special and unique relationship with the United States, and whose citizens serve in the U.S. military at some of the highest volunteer rates per capita. The bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai‘i) and John Boozman (R-Ark.).

“I’ve made it a priority to help expand access to care for our veterans. But the reality is, there are men and women living in the U.S. Territories and Freely Associated States, who also served our military under the American flag, who are not being afforded those same benefits— benefits they have earned. If someone commits to serving in the U.S. military, they deserve access to benefits as every other service member,” said Senator Murkowski.

“If someone puts on the uniform to serve our nation, they should be given the same benefits that our service members receive, no matter where they live,” said Senator Schatz. “This bill offers a responsible path forward to giving men and women who served the care they deserve.”

The bipartisan Care for COFA Veterans Act would allow the VA to provide medical care to veterans living in the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia—all countries that have entered into Compact of Free Association with the United States.

The bill would remove restrictions on the VA from:

  • Providing services to veterans residing in the FAS, including through establishing a clinic, via telehealth, or through contracts with community providers;
  • Shipping medications to the FAS; and
  • Reimbursing veterans for travel from their home countries to the United States for service-connected care.

Companion legislation is being introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Representative Ami Bera (D-Calif.), Ed Case (D-Hawai‘i), Aumua Amata Radewagen (R-A.S.), Jill N. Tokuda (D-Hawai‘i), and Steve Womack (R-Ark.).

“Many Palauans have served in the U.S. military and many more continue that tradition of service. In fact, we have one of the highest - if not the highest - service rates compared to U.S. States and territories. And yet, Palauans who have retired from military service can’t access in Palau the healthcare that they can receive in the U.S. This makes it difficult for them to return home where they can continue to contribute so much.  This is why I so strongly support the bill by Senator Schatz to require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to develop a plan to provide healthcare services to U.S. military veterans from the three nations freely associated with the U.S. in their home countries,” said President Surangel Whipps, Jr. of the Republic of Palau.

“The Republic of the Marshall Islands expresses our deep appreciation to Senator Schatz for his leadership in providing access to health services for Marshallese veterans. Our citizens serve with honor and pride in the U.S. armed forces at rates that far exceed the national average, yet they are denied the U.S. veterans benefits for which they are eligible if they return home after service.  We thank Senator Schatz for his Aloha spirit in recognizing the contributions of Marshallese citizens to the United States and urge quick passage of this important legislation,” said Ambassador Gerald Zackios of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

“Micronesians are extremely proud to serve in the U.S. military. Unfortunately, our veterans who return home to Micronesia after serving in the U.S. military have great difficulty in accessing the health care they have earned through their service. They must leave Micronesia and travel long distances and pay for expenses out-of-pocket to receive care. With increased use of telehealth and other regional health services, Micronesian and other Freely Associated States veterans would have improved access to critical healthcare. We thank Senator Schatz for his continued leadership for FAS veterans and commend him for reintroducing the Extending Care to Compact of Free Association (COFA) Veterans Act, which would reduce existing barriers for FAS veterans to utilize their VA healthcare benefits,” said Jackson Soram, the Chargé d’affaires at the Embassy of the Federated States of Micronesia to the United States.

The Care for COFA Veterans Act is supported by AAPI Equity Alliance, American Legion, American Samoa Veterans Association, Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese, Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, Blinded Veterans Association, East-West Center, Empowering Pacific Islander Communities, National Association of Pasifika Organizations, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, National Tongan American Society, Oregon Marshallese Community Association, Pacific Islander Community Association of Washington, Pacific Community of Alaska, Pacific Islands Primary Care Association, University of Hawai‘i System, U.S. Armed Forces Veterans Association of Palau, U.S. VETS, UTOPIA Portland, UTOPIA Washington, Veterans Golf Association of American Samoa, and We Are Oceania.