Department of Interior Assistant Secretary Doug Domenech met with Marshallese veterans at the Marshall Islands Resort Tuesday following courtesy calls with President Hilda Heine and Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister John Silk earlier.
There were 14 veterans who served in the US Armed Forces present in the forum, three of whom served more than 20 years in active duty and are now retired. The mood of the meeting went from bitter to sweet as the former servicemen shared their frustrations and concerns that seemed to have no solution.
Helkena Anni bluntly said previous meetings such as the Tuesday forum were a waste of time where nothing happened, to which Domenech said “that was the last meeting where nothing happened.”
Helkena is a veteran and has two sons serving on active duty. Issues including not having easy access to medical care were brought up, with soldiers sharing personal experiences where they had to use out-of-pocket money during check ups.
Minister of Health and Human Services and Army veteran Kalani Kaneko suggested replicating a similar idea used at a small veterans clinic in Kauai, where they refer patients to Honolulu if the small clinic can’t handle the health condition.
The round table, with the backing of RMI Ambassador to US Gerald Zackios, agreed on establishing a local legion as a solution to most of the issues discussed. US Ambassador Karen Stewart led the US delegation to the forum.
Malia Heine, who served 12 years in the Coast Guard and Navy, said she kept encountering wall after wall preventing her from transferring her GI Bill benefits to her sons.
The visit by Domenech and Office of Insular Affairs Director Nikolao Pula highlighted the many areas in which both nations engage in relations.
The visit kicked off with a courtesy call on President Hilda Heine and the Cabinet. The President said the trip is an evident commitment of the strong ties between the two nations. She said their visit will provide insight on challenges the country is currently facing. She named the RMI Trust Fund, the supplemental education grant, and climate change as key interactions.
Domenech presented a Public Infrastructure Grant Award of $432,900 to help assist Majuro Water and Sewer Company’s Capital Development Plan. Domenech and Pula were scheduled to continue to Kwajalein and Ebeye Thursday and Friday.
Read more about this in the January 19, 2018 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.