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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Veterans celebrate clinic in Kahului

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

KAHULUI, Maui — It was a long, hard battle, but Maui's veterans finally can celebrate a victory.

A spacious, state-of-the-art Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient medical clinic opened here last week, the fruition of a lengthy lobbying campaign to improve the health care of Maui veterans.

On the third floor of the Maui Occupational Health Center building at 203 Ho'ohana St. in Kahului, the VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic will be officially dedicated in a ceremony at 1 p.m. Jan. 7.

"It's a big deal,'' said Mitch Skaggerberg, a board member of the Vietnam Veterans of Maui County. "We went from the worst health care to one of the best on the island.''

For years, Maui veterans endured scant VA medical care. A small outpatient clinic in Wailuku, run by a registered nurse, offered relatively little, and too many patients suffered lengthy delays in seeing a VA doctor, waiting weeks or months to correct serious medical problems.

Skaggerberg said veterans who questioned the level of health care were always told Hawai'i already has a decent facility, the Spark M. Matsunaga VA Medical and Regional Office Center in Ho-nolulu. While true, the fact remained that it was on another island — a logistical and financial hurdle for many veterans.

Skaggerberg, a VA Medical and Regional Office Center Advisory Council member, was among the Maui veterans who put pressure on the VA and federal legislators to upgrade offerings on the Neighbor Islands.

In addition, he and others worked to increase the number of veterans using Maui VA services. Clinic numbers shot up recently from 400 to 2,000, which demonstrated need, he said.

Under the leadership of David Burge, director of the Honolulu Veterans Affairs Medical and Regional Office Center, and with help from Hawai'i's U.S. Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, full-time physician staffing was established on Maui eight months ago and the new clinic has been realized.

The VA opened a new clinic in Hilo in April and is working to improve Kaua'i's clinic.

The new Maui clinic is triple the size of the old one. There is a full pharmacy and offices for eye examinations.