On May 4th, 2017, Dr. Norman Okamura, Principal Investigator, Pacific Basin Telehealth Resource Center (PBTRC), testified at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Telemedicine in the VA. Dr. Okamura noted that the VA is the national leader in telemedicine utilization and the largest integrated health care system in the U.S. He also highlighted the need for increased collaboration with the VA and other agencies such as the Department of Defense and academic institutions, and further advocated for increased synergy with HRSA funded Telehealth Resource Centers that serve all 50 states and Pacific Island territories.
Dr. Okamura provided his perspective on the importance of telemedicine in the Pacific Islands Region. He discussed how the vast distance and the numerous times zones that separate the Pacific Island Territories from the United States further increases the need for telehealth services for access to care for Veterans living in the territories. Finally, Dr. Okamura highlighted the ongoing challenges for veterans in the Pacific Island Freely Associated States (FAS). Under current law the VA is unable to provide these veterans services in FAS where they live, not even by telehealth, because the FAS jurisdictions are considered foreign countries. Dr. Okamura’s testimony suggests several options for the VA to improve services to the FAS veterans including the authorization of Veteran Health Benefits to provide telehealth services to the veterans who live in the FAS.