Health Benefits for US Veterans From Pacific Nations Get Step Closer

After decades of neglect, the US government is one step closer to eliminating longstanding obstacles to free health care for veterans from three Pacific Island nations.

Hundreds of such veterans, who served in the US military as foreign citizens, are legally entitled to the care, but current federal law prevents the Department of Veterans Affairs from either directly providing it to them where they live or from compensating them for the cost of flights to the United States for it.

This month, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland asked congressional leaders to pass legislation that would allow the department to do either of those two things.

Joseph Yun, President Biden’s special envoy to the three Micronesian nations — the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau — said in an interview that reporting by The New York Times “had a bearing” on the decision to pursue changes to the barriers to care.

The three Micronesian countries are independent but maintain close relationships with the United States under agreements known as compacts of free association. The compacts give the United States control over the Micronesian countries’ security and allow their citizens to enlist in the American military, among other things.

Mr. Yun has spent the past year negotiating updates to the compacts, as the United States solidifies its relationships in the Pacific against Chinese influence. The changes for veterans are part of a package of compact-related proposals.

Kalani Kaneko, a veteran and a Marshallese former health minister, said he was “hopeful and optimistic” about the news. But he then struck a more frustrated note. “I also picture our veterans who took their own lives because they weren’t getting the help they needed,” he said. “And I wish they were still around to see the progress.”

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