Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Anchor Point Post, and American Legion Auxiliary, Post 16, salute during the playing of “Taps” at Veterans Day ceremonies at the Veterans Memorial at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center on Tuesday.-Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News

Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Anchor Point Post, and American Legion Auxiliary, Post 16, salute during the playing of “Taps” at Veterans Day ceremonies at the Veterans Memorial at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center on Tuesday.-Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News

VA to vets: Let us help

BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG

STAFF WRITER

Sign up.

That’s the message Susan Yeager, Alaska director of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, delivered to lower Kenai Peninsula veterans during a September talk for the Kachemak Bay Rotary Club. 

Fill out the VA’s form 1010EZ. Get enrolled. Help the VA help you.

With Veterans Day having been observed on Tuesday, Yeager’s message seems to take on even more significance. 

Alaska has 77,000 military veterans, of which 30,000 haven’t enrolled to receive VA benefits. About 17,000 veterans statewide use the VA. The Kenai Peninsula has 5,512 veterans, with 2,517 enrolled and about 1,600 using benefits. 

In the Homer area, 200 out of 341 vets use the VA.

“We’re trying to increase it more because we believe there are vets who need service,” Yeager said. “There are still veterans in this area who could have the benefit of the VA.”

Yeager, who has worked in the VA for 34 years, conceded the criticism the VA has received this year sparked by reports in Phoeniz, Ariz., that veterans had lengthy wait times to get medical care.

“That really took off. It was something I had never seen before — how weak was the VA, how it had to improve,” Yeager said. “The bottom line is access to health care for veterans.”

Because of Alaska’s geography and its lack of a large, centralized VA medical center, to some degree Alaska has already implemented one solution suggested for getting veterans medical care: purchasing care through non-VA health providers. The VA reimburses at Medicare plus rates.

“We in Alaska pretty much know how rural we are and the challenges of health care,” Yeager said. “When it came down to what happened in the lower 48, it had already happened in Alaska.”

In Anchorage, through a contract with the Department of Defense at its Joint Venture Hospital at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, the VA has 10 beds for intensive care and 24 beds for medical care. Anchorage also has a VA Outpatient Clinic. In Fairbanks, Kenai and the Mat-Su, the VA has Community Based Outpatient Clinics and in Homer and Juneau Outreach Clinics. 

In Homer, Anchorage VA Dr. Roy Boone visits South Peninsula Hospital twice a week to do VA clinics. Through the hospital, the VA also does social work and mental health telemedicine clinics — like “Skype on steroids,” Yeager said. 

The VA also has contracts with 26 Alaska Native health corporations to provide VA medical care, including Seldovia Village Tribe. 

At the Seldovia SVT clinic, that means veterans can go to that clinic, but at the Homer SVT health clinic, because Dr. Boone already does clinics, the rules say veterans have to see him. However, waivers can be made on a case-by-case basis to access the Homer SVT clinic, Yeager said.

The Veterans Choice Bill signed by President Barack Obama will allow veterans to get non-VA care if they can’t get an appointment within 30 days. Since Alaska veterans already can get medical care through non-VA doctors, how that will roll out and affect Alaska veterans remains to be seen, Yeager said.

“We’re kind of up in the air for next year,” she said.

One way the VA signs up eligible veterans is when they go to hospital emergency rooms. Vets who get care there can sign up within 72 hours for benefits, but it’s better if they have already done that.

“That’s why we’re trying to be proactive,” Yeager said. “Just go ahead, get started.”

Veterans also can get emergency transportation services like medevacs. When she’s traveled to rural Alaska, Yeager said she would find veterans who didn’t know about that service.

“It hurts my feelings. We got out to the villages and found there are two veterans who had two medevacs for cardiac surgery,” she said.

At the local level, the VA also is trying to provide transportation for veterans to doctors or to the Homer outreach clinic and the Kenai outpatient clinic.

“This is a big issue,” Yeager said. 

Some veterans use the VA as their primary medical provider, but the VA also can benefit veterans on other health insurance plans. The VA provides care for service-related injuries. 

That’s the situation he’s in, noted VA public affairs officer Samuel Hudson. A Navy veteran, he has a service-related injury.

“I can go for the rest of my life for those injuries,” he said.

The VA also provides other benefits, such as burial services. Veterans who qualify for disability also can get benefits based on the degree of the disability.

Yeager comes from a military family. Her father was a radio operator in World War II and her brother was wounded in the Vietnam War. She said she understands why Vietnam-era veterans in particular might be hesitant to get VA service. She encouraged those veterans to talk to the VA.

“Give them another chance,” Yeager said. “We’d like to give them the opportunity to serve their needs.”

The poor treatment of Vietnam veterans has led to a better process for getting discharged veterans VA benefits. When veterans leave the service, the VA and Department of Defense work closely to advise them of VA benefits. The goal is to get them signed up using the 1010EZ form at discharge.

“I think we’re doing a lot better now as a country than we were during the Vietnam period,” Yeager said.

But to get help from the VA, those thousands of Alaska veterans who have served their country need to sign up.

“Now the VA is more. We believe this in Alaska. We exist for veterans,” Yeager said. “If they don’t know about you, how good are you?”

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

During the Veterans Day open house aboard the USCGC Hickory, Ensign David Parker describes the ship’s communication system to Amy Springer and Edward Blickhahn.-Photo by McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

During the Veterans Day open house aboard the USCGC Hickory, Ensign David Parker describes the ship’s communication system to Amy Springer and Edward Blickhahn.-Photo by McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

Petty Officer Will Nipp describes control systems aboard the Hickory to Edward Blickhahn during the ship’s open house.

Petty Officer Will Nipp describes control systems aboard the Hickory to Edward Blickhahn during the ship’s open house.

-Photo by McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

-Photo by McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

More in News

Coast Guardsmen and state employees load the Together Tree bound for the Alaska Governor’s Mansion on a truck on Nov. 29, 2021 after the Coast Guard Cutter Elderberry transported the tree from Wrangell. (USCG photo / Petty Officer 2nd Class Lexie Preston)
Governor’s mansion tree arrives in Juneau

No weather or floating lines could stay these Coast Guardsmen about their task.

The Kenai Community Library health section is seen on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. The Kenai City Council voted during its Oct. 20 meeting to postpone the legislation approving grant funds after members of the community raised concerns about what books would be purchased with the money, as well as the agency awarding the grant. The council will reconsider the legislation on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai council to consider library grant again

The council earlier voted to postpone the legislation after concerns were raised about what books would be purchased.

EPA logo
Alaska Native group to receive EPA funds for clean water projects

The agency is handing out $4.3 million to participating tribal organizations nationwide.

fund
Study: PFD increases spending on kids among low-income families

New study looks at PFD spending by parents

Image via the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation
Nikiski soil treatment facility moves ahead

The facility, located at 52520 Kenai Spur Highway, has drawn ire from community residents.

Commercial fishing and other boats are moored in the Homer Harbor in this file photo. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Seawatch: Bycatch becomes hot issue

Dunleavy forms bycatch task force.

Rep. Chris Kurka, R-Wasilla, leaves the chambers of the Alaska House of Representatives on Friday, March 19, 2021, after an hour of delays concerning the wording on his mask. On Monday, Kurka announced he was running for governor in 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Wasilla rep announces gubernatorial bid

Kurka said he was motivated to run by a sense of betrayal from Dunleavy.

The Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson star is Illuminated on the side of Mount Gordon Lyon on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2019, just east of Anchorage, Alaska, in observation of the 18th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. A crew from the base went to light the 300-foot wide holiday star, but found that only half of the star’s 350 or so lights were working, the Anchorage Daily News reported. Airmen from the 773rd Civil Engineer Squadron Electrical Shop haven’t been able to figure out what was wrong and repair the lights, but they plan to work through the week, if necessary, base spokesperson Erin Eaton said. (Bill Roth/Anchorage Daily News via AP)
Avalanche delays holiday tradition in Alaska’s largest city

ANCHORAGE — A holiday tradition in Alaska’s largest city for more than… Continue reading

AP Photo/Gregory Bull,File
In this Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020, photo, George Chakuchin, left, and Mick Chakuchin look out over the Bering Sea near Toksook Bay, Alaska. A federal grant will allow an extensive trail system to connect all four communities on Nelson Island, just off Alaska’s western coast. The $12 million grant will pay to take the trail the last link, from Toksook Bay, which received the federal money, to the community of Mertarvik, the new site for the village of Newtok. The village is moving because of erosion.
Federal grant will connect all 4 Nelson Island communities

BETHEL — A federal grant will allow an extensive trail system to… Continue reading

Most Read