Alaska Veterans Healthcare
Access Problems Raised with VA Secretary
May 28, 2009
WASHINGTON, D.C. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki
today told U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, that he wants
to try to ease the serious VA healthcare access problems facing
veterans in rural Alaska.
At a meeting in the senator's office, Murkowski invited Shinseki
to visit Alaska and see those challenges first hand. Shinseki
said he would like to visit the state.
Murkowski used the 45-minute meeting with Shinseki to reiterate
a variety of concerns regarding VA healthcare in Alaska.
Veterans in Fairbanks and Southeast are being asked to fly to
Seattle and Anchorage for treatment that the VA can't provide
in their hometowns but community providers can. Veterans in rural
Alaska receive no VA healthcare unless they can travel to a VA
facility, often at their own expense.
The meeting followed a letter Murkowski sent to Shinseki last
here) in which she underscored that many Alaska veterans
are effectively disenfranchised from utilizing their earned VA
healthcare benefit due to the distance between their homes and
the nearest VA facility. A member of the Senate Appropriations
Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, Murkowski emphasized the plight
of rural veterans who have no direct access to VA facilities.
"I asked Secretary Shinseki to look into why the VA still
does not purchase care from the Alaska Native Health System and
Alaska's Community Health Centers," Murkowski said. "The
secretary indicated that he intends to meet with the national
leadership of the Indian Health Service to explore ways that
the VA and the Indian Health Service might partner together.
I hope the administration will follow through and help us solve
this critical problem facing Alaska veterans."
Murkowski told Shinseki that it was important for Alaska Native
veterans to understand that the VA respects their service to
the nation. In that regard, she asked Shinseki to speak at the
2009 Alaska Federation of Natives Convention, or if his schedule
doesn't permit a visit, to send a message to the convention.
Friday, the VA Alaska Health System will brief the state's congressional
delegation staff on several new initiatives in the works to improve
care in rural Alaska. The briefing was scheduled following Murkowski's
letter to Shinseki. The initiatives include:
- A pilot project to demonstrate
the use of expanded fee-basis authority in providing primary
care services to highly rural Alaskan Veterans. This project
will impact approximately 600 enrolled Veterans in the Bethel
Census Area, Bristol Bay Borough, Dillingham Census Area and
the City of Cordova. The pilot activation is scheduled for June
- A National Care Coordination
Home Telehealth project, which includes a planned expansion into
- A Care Coordination Store
and Forward project, which includes funding for teleretinal imaging
equipment planned for the Kenai, Alaska, Community Based Outpatient
- A Care Coordination General
Telehealth project, which will benefit Veterans across all of
VISN 20 (Veterans Integrated Service Network 20), including Alaska
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