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Multi-service veterans center still in the works

But location is changing; Maui High no longer in picture

Elinor Takahashi arranges flowers to put on the graves of her parents, Yoshimasa and Sumiko Kuniyoshi, on Tuesday morning at Maui Veterans Cemetery in Makawao. She and husband, Lei Takahashi, decided to visit a day before Veterans Day to avoid crowds that might be visiting the cemetery today. She said her father served in the Army, including two years during World War II. “We always appreciated what they did, the sacrifices they made,” she said. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

On Veterans Day today, Maui veterans continue to wait for a multi-service center to be built that would consolidate three major Veterans Affairs Department facilities on the Valley Isle.

In the works for more than a decade, the project had been slated for empty state land next to Maui High School — but is now looking for a new home.

Last year, the state Department of Education indicated in direct talks with Veterans Affairs Pacific Island Health Care that the DOE could not give a definite timetable for closing actions and its final submittal, said state Office of Veterans Services Director Ron Han in an email Monday. The DOE cited position vacancies and difficulties pertaining to land projects that were pending.

Given the situation, the land acquisition previously agreed to with the DOE was canceled, Han said.

Plans had called for the land acquisition near Maui High to be concluded in 2019 with design and construction expected over a 24-month time frame.

The United States flag flaps in a crisp breeze at Maui Veterans Cemetery on Tuesday morning. Today is Veterans Day, which is always observed on Nov. 11, the day in 1918 when the armistice ended fighting in World War I. Veterans Day, the Veterans Affairs Department website says, is “a celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”

No new location for the facility has been identified publicly but refreshed estimates and specifications have been submitted to the VA Office of Capital Management Service, Amy Rohlfs, public affairs officer for the VA Pacific Islands Health Care System, said Tuesday.

“At this time, our deadlines are to be determined and the project schedule to be developed upon VA headquarters approval,” Rohlfs added.

The new facility aims to consolidate the island’s three VA service locations: the Maui Veterans Center in Maui Lani, which serves as a counseling center; the state Office of Veterans Services in Kahului, which assists veterans with applications for medical benefits; and the VA’s Maui Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in Kahului, which provides general health care.

The project at Maui High was estimated to cost $9.9 million and would have expanded much-needed space for primary care, mental health, women’s health, specialty medical care, telemedicine and parking for veterans.

The project also would have provided educational opportunities for Maui High students.

In 2017, U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono announced that the VA had approved the lease, touted as a unique partnership between the VA and the state Department of Education.

Last year, Hirono acknowledged the patience of veterans but added that “time is of the essence” and what was needed was cooperation among federal, state, county and community stakeholders.

On Tuesday, she reiterated a similar message and added that she continues to receive monthly updates on the project and communicates regularly with Maui County veterans and the Maui Veterans Council.

“The construction of a convenient and accessible (service center) location will provide veterans with access to the critical services and care they deserve, and we need to complete this project,” she said in an email.

Lloyd Sodetani, a veteran and former chairman of the state Office of Veterans Services that helped initiate the project more than a decade ago, said Monday that he did not know the official status of the center. He has long fought for a centralized service center for veterans and has said the new facility is taking too long to build.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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