65: Caring for Veterans

Sen. Kalani Kaneko of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, himself a former health official, shares how military veterans from the freely associated states aligned with the U.S. cannot access their health benefits if they decide to live on the...

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Sen. Kalani Kaneko of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, himself a former health official, shares how military veterans from the freely associated states aligned with the U.S. cannot access their health benefits if they decide to live on the islands they call home; Dr. Lee Norman, Kansas Secretary of Health and a Colonel in the U.S. Army, tells us what he would do to improve health care for his fellow veterans; Mylynn Tufte, former state health official in North Dakota, gets set to inspire an audience on Nov. 18th; ASTHO announces new job openings; and ASTHO’s Courtney Youngbar shares a “thankful note” in advance of Public Health Thank You Day on Nov. 22nd.

Hawaii Public Radio webpage: Complicated U.S. relations Leave Veterans Without Full Health Benefits

ASTHO webpage: Insight and Inspiration series

ASTHO webpage: Job Opportunities in Public Health and at ASTHO

APHA webpage: Public Health Thank You Day

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Wednesday, November 10th, 2021. I'm Robert Johnson.

Here's today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.



What is our value? Does our value go up because of where we reside, or are we just being punished because of where we reside?


The words of Kalani Kaneko, a senator serving in parliament in the Republic of the Marshall Islands and a retired U.S. army veteran, asking a tough question on the eve of Veteran's Day.

The issue: why veterans from freely associated states, those nations aligned with the U.S. through compacts, must travel at great personal expense, often far from home, just to take advantage of health benefits they earned by their service.


I understand the red tape of politics; but I still believe that if we work together, if we make it a priority, we can make the change quick.

But it will never be a priority unless somebody makes it a priority.


Kaneko wants Congress and the White House to support HR 3730, a bill that would study the issue and recommend ways to help hundreds of veterans seeking easier access to their hard earned VA benefits.


You may know Dr. Lee Norman as the personable secretary of health from Kansas; but he's also a colonel in the U.S. Army, kicking off his military career in the Air Force in 1974.

On Veteran's Day Eve, this leader who wears many hats says the nation needs to focus on improving primary care for veterans, increasing access to telehealth, and giving veterans a seat at the table where policies and plans are discussed.

We pick up the conversation there with Dr—and Colonel—Lee Norman. It's today's morning conversation.

How could public health leaders like yourself push an agenda like that? What's their role?


Well, when we refer to the federal agencies, such as the VA, as federal partners—and I kind of put that in air quotes when I use the term "partners," because sometimes we don't act like partners. You know, we at the states tend to isolate ourselves a little bit from our counties, the feds tend isolate themselves away from the states.

And I know it sounds kind of Pollyannish to say we need to build all those cross bridges. And that's true, whether it's CMS or CDC or FDA, or the VA could reach out to us because we're very much on the front lines here. And I think we have learned lessons and can collaborate better than we do right now.


So, you'd like to see more interaction there, more conversations going on, more working together.


Yeah. And one other thing that may not sound very appealing or interesting, but it's important—and that is data sharing. We could profoundly benefit from states and the federal government modernizing our IT systems.

So, the shared data—if you asked me to say, "Lee, what are your veterans in Shawnee county? And how many of them have been vaccinated for COVID-19? And can you help us find the ones that haven't? 'Cause we'd like to reach out to them." I always say, "No, we don't know who those are." Now, the VA presumably does.

But good data can help drive good care.


Is it possible to do that? How hard would it be? How long would it take?


I think it is an achievable goal. I think, like anything else, it must be taken in small bites, and to say, "What are the things that really matter?"

For example, I happen to think that cancer screening really matters. And with a lot of vets are men that have prostates screening that should occur, most certainly colon cancer screenings; women vets, of course, breast cancer screening, colon cancer, ovarian, and the like. And I think that's one of them that there would be terrific if we had a veteran's cancer prevention and early diagnostic program, and could see a lot of vets receive care in the civilian sector as well.

But we in the veterans programs, I think, should have the ability to track. And, for the most part, I've had a doctor for a long time on the civilian side and, because I'm still employed full-time, I can go either to a veterans program or to a civilian. But I still get reached out to by our local VA where I live; and I might not always avail myself to it, but that kind of reminder system helps to jog my memory, "Gosh, it's that time of the year already. Okay, I'll do that."

So, pick the three or four things that really matter, and then let's start collaborating in ways we've never done before; and the currency for that will be data and information.



Effective leadership is key in public health, just like it is in military service.

ASTHO offers a conversation on the topic next Thursday, November 18th. That's when Mylynn Tufte, the former state health official from North Dakota, will visit with a group online about how to lead with gratitude.

Register for the last conversation in the Insight and Inspiration series now. The link is in the show notes.


Also, ASTHO is recruiting for several open positions.

The organization needs a training specialist to join the learning and long-distance education team, a director of information technology, and an analyst specializing in preparedness.

Find these jobs and many more on the ASTHO careers webpage using the link in the show notes.


Finally this morning, ASTHO's Courtney Youngbar tells us what she's thankful for this month as we get set to celebrate Public Health Thank You Day on Monday, November 22nd.


I'm really thankful for the people I work with and how great of an organization ASTHO is—and it really is a great place to work, and I do feel like I'm making a difference.

In addition to that, in my personal life, I'm really thankful for the health of my family and that we've all been doing okay throughout COVID-19.



That'll do it for today's report.


Make sure to follow us on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. You can also listen on Alexa or Google assistant.

If you have time, we'd be grateful if you could leave us a rating and a review.


We're taking the day off for Veteran's Day, but we'll be back here bright and early Friday morning with more ASTHO news and information.


I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. And to all of our veterans out there—thank you for your service, and happy Veteran's Day.

Mylynn Tufte

Senior Director, Population Health Practice Lead, Optum

Kalani Kaneko

Senator of the Parliament of the Republic of the Marshall Islands

Lee Norman MD MHS MBA

Former Secretary of Kansas Department of Health and Environment

Courtney Youngbar MPH

Senior Analyst, Environmental Health, ASTHO