KAHULUI - Distinguished by its patriotic decals, large satellite and sheer size, a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Mobile Vet Center turned heads and helped Maui veterans over the weekend.
The white Ford F550 with a customized cab was shipped from its home at the West Oahu Vet Center to the Valley Isle. It will remain on the island until Monday, with planned stops in West, South and Central Maui.
Maui veterans, workers and Mayor Alan Arakawa celebrated its first day on the island during Saturday's swap meet on the University of Hawaii Maui College campus.
Richard McDonald (right), a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs vocational rehabilitation counselor on Maui, shakes hands with Wailuku military veteran Keoki Kiili while standing next to Korean War veteran Fred Ruge on Saturday afternoon during the Maui Swap Meet on the University of Hawaii Maui College campus. McDonald and Ruge were among a handful of veterans and VA workers who greeted passers-by outside a Mobile Vet Center. The vehicle will be making trips around the island to provide resources for Maui veterans.
The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo
The Mobile Vet Center was shipped from its home at the West Oahu Vet Center to the Valley Isle last week. It will remain on the island until Monday. The vehicle is equipped with a satellite and video-conference technology.
The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo
"Today was fantastic, but what I did notice is, there's a certain hesitation among veterans not to access services," said Richard McDonald, a vocational rehabilitation counselor at the VA's Maui Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in Kahului. "But we saw a lot of them coming by and sort of looking over and we invited them to come in and talk to us.
"We provided a lot of information to local veterans and their spouses or daughters . . . to make it as easy as possible and as inviting as possible."
The vehicle armed with state-of-the-art equipment, including satellite phones and video teleconferencing, can access medical records and other materials to help act as an outreach center for veterans in rural communities. VA workers, who were busy passing out pamphlets and other information to passers-by over the weekend, explained that the mobile vet center acts as a sort of billboard that reaches out to veterans, rather than vice versa.
Mark Levno, a team leader at the Maui Vet Center in Wailuku, said it can be confusing for veterans seeking help considering there are three separate offices, each dealing with different services.
The offices include the vet center, which serves as a counseling center; the state Office of Veterans Services in Kahului, which assists members with applications for medical benefits; and the VA's clinic, which provides general health care.
"More often than not they come and need some information and materials," Levno said. "First thing (Saturday) morning, a veteran came in had some personal issues that they wanted to talk about so Travis (Schmidt), here, was with him for about 45 minutes."
Schmidt, a VA worker and driver from Oahu, brought the man inside the spacious mobile vehicle, which has a table, chairs and sofa.
"Having a space that is removed from the busyness and noise out there is well handled," Levno said.
While Maui veterans and workers are thrilled to have the 2-year-old vehicle, it was difficult shipping it from Oahu because of its size, weight and cost.
"This thing weighs 19,000 pounds," said Janice Yu, an Army OneSource representative. "So you know how when you have to bring a car from Oahu to Maui it costs about $250 - it's thousands of dollars to transport this."
Yu, who helped handle the logistics of transporting the mobile vet center, credited Young Brothers for lowering the cost, which Schmidt said went from $3,000 to $400 as part of a community services grant.
Levno, who never dreamed that the mobile vet center would make it to Maui, said he has already received much interest and feedback from the community despite heavy rains.
"I think for a lot of people just seeing the VA being out here and reaching out to veterans is kind of gratifying," he said. "Being a Vietnam veteran myself, when we got back a lot of people were not terribly happy to see us, or welcoming. We tended not to tell people that we served in Vietnam, so it's nice now that someone is saying we're here for them."
The mobile vet center will be making five more appearances:
* Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Lahaina Craft Fair, Lahaina Gateway.
* Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., student veteran outreach at UH Maui College, Kahului.
* Friday, noon to 4 p.m., veteran outreach at Camp Olowalu, 800 Olowalu Village Road.
* Saturday, 10 a.m. to noon, Women Veteran Stand Down, Army National Guard, 2701 Mokulele Highway.
* Sunday, 8 a.m. to noon, outreach at Cameron Center, 95 Mahalani St., Wailuku.
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.