By Earl Newsome
WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 29, 2012) — The Department of Veterans Affairs, in observance of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month in May made it an occasion to remember the patriotism of AAPI servicemen and women that have served, and are currently serving in the United States Military.
Reviews of historical documents reflect the first recorded history of Asian Americans fighting on behalf of the United States as far back as 1815, when General Andrew Jackson recorded that “Manilamen” had fought alongside his in defense of New Orleans, under the command of Jean Baptiste Lafitte. That proud tradition has continued to the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Approximately 1.5 percent of Veterans, and seven percent of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ employees are of Asian American and Pacific Islander descent.
As the Acting Director of the VA Center for Minority Veterans, I am proud to play an active part with others in VA to conduct outreach activities to encourage every eligible Veteran to fully utilize benefits and services they have earned based on their military service. VA is constantly working to improve access, end the claims backlog, and end homelessness among Veterans. The following initiatives involved in these areas have had direct impact on AAPI Veterans:
• On Jan. 31, 2012, VA hosted an Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders roundtable. This roundtable was a concerted effort to make clear that the issues affecting the over 300,000 AAPI Veterans are of great importance. Hosted by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the roundtable gathered high-level Veterans Affairs officials, other federal leaders, and community advocates in discussions on the subjects of access to health care, access to benefits, data collection, and outreach.
• In 2011 in Guam, VA opened a new Community Based Outpatient Clinic on the perimeter of the Naval Hospital property. VA continues to partner with the Naval Hospital in Guam to provide inpatient, specialty, ancillary and emergency room services for eligible Veterans on Guam and in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas.
• VA is providing assistance to officials in Guam as they attempt to make improvements to their Veterans cemetery.
• The VA Pacific Islands Healthcare System conducts a consistent variety of outreach activities which encompass the service catchment area of the Hawaiian Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas.
• The VA Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans is currently comprised of 12 members of whom three are from the AAPI community. Two of these individuals are current Gulf War Veterans. The remaining AAPI member is from Guam and has provided valuable information on the challenges confronting Veterans in the insular and rural areas.
• In 2009, VA staff from the Manila VA Regional Office conducted outreach in connection with processing claims related to the Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Act.
• The Center for Minority Veterans Asian American and Pacific Islander Veterans Liaison is actively engaged in outreach to many AAPI community organizations. He is also President of the VA Chapter of the Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC).
• The VA Office of Diversity and Inclusion collaborates with the International Leadership Foundation, Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, and Organization of Chinese Americans to increase the participation of AAPI students in internship programs.
VA is honored to serve AAPI Veterans, their family members, and their survivors. To learn more about the Center for Minority Veterans visit our website.
Earl Newsome serves at the Acting Director of VA’s Center for Minority Veterans.