US Veterans Secretary Robert Wilkie attending the inauguration of Federated States of Micronesia President David Panuelo. (Screenshot from Pohnpei Public Broadcasting Corporation live streaming)

Addressing the concerns of the Veterans of the United States (US) Armed Services from the Freely Associated States (FAS) will be one of the focal purposes of US Veterans Secretary Robert Wilkie’s visit to the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) this month.

Secretary Wilkie, who is currently in FSM to represent the US government in the inauguration ceremony for FSM President David Panuelo on July 29, is said to be the first US Veterans Affairs Secretary to visit the FSM.

State Department Director for Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands Nicholas Dean, during a telephone conference on July 26, said that the visit is a “a concrete demonstration of the enduring commitment of the United States to the region.”

VA Chief of Staff Pamela Powers, who is part of the US delegation during the visit in FSM, also said that Secretary Wilkie looks forward to hearing the concerns and issues of the US veterans from the FAS, stressing importance of improving services for them as a focus of the visit.

“The sustained engagement by the United States with the leadership of the Federated States of Micronesia and the leadership of the Republic of Marshall Islands and Palau is all directed to the fundamental goal of securing our partnership over the long haul.  That is very much our central focus,” Powers said.

Secretary Wilkie, during a wreath-laying ceremony held at the Pohnpei International Airport on July 28, had also paid tribute to the 10 men and women from the FSM who died serving the US military, according to the press statement from the FSM Presidential Office. A citizens’ outreach meeting with the FSM veterans was also conducted later on the same day that was attended by Wilkie.

Access to US Veterans benefits and services in the Pacific had long been the clamor of the people and leaders from the region. In fact, during the 24th Micronesian Islands’ Forum (MIF) held in Chuuk, FSM on July 11, United States-affiliated Pacific Islands (USAPIs) had issued a resolution outlining the need for equitable access to quality healthcare services for Pacific veterans who served in the United States Armed Forces.

The resolution pointed out that US veterans residing in the Freely Associated States (FAS) have no access to Veterans Affairs (VA) services in their respective homelands and had to travel to the US mainland, Guam, Hawaii, and the CNMI just to avail of the services. (Rhealyn C. Pojas)