Alaska Native veterans living in rural areas of the state have poor access to Veterans Administration health care, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said on Friday at a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing on health care in Anchorage, Alaska, the Anchorage Daily News reports. According to Murkowski, Alaska Natives and American Indians combined have the highest rate of military service of any group of U.S. residents.
There are about 6,000 Alaska Native veterans in the state, and most of them live in areas not accessible by roads, along with about one-quarter of all Alaskan veterans, according to the Daily News. VA clinics are located in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Kenai, but there are no clinics in western Alaska.
Alaska Army National Guard 1st Sgt. John Flynn at the hearing said some veterans who live in remote areas spend as much as $1,000 to fly from their villages to Anchorage to receive a checkup. Nelson Angapak, vice president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, said, "The VA has absolutely no presence in rural Alaska. Absolutely none."
Alexander Spector, director of the Alaska VA Health Care System, said the agency is working to improve access and recently signed a memo of understanding with the state to ensure "seamless delivery of health care services to rural veterans" in Alaska, including the creation of mobile outreach teams. In addition, more money has been allocated to pay the travel expenses of veterans who live beyond the road system, Spector said. Such payments currently are offered only to veterans with disabilities who have annual incomes less than $12,000, according to the Daily News.
Valerie Davidson, a director of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, said it would be more cost efficient for VA to develop a way of compensating Indian Health Services for health care veterans receive at the 180 small village health centers or rural hub clinics around the state. Murkowski agreed that it would be "prudent" for VA and the tribal health services to combine their efforts and advised Spector to facilitate such a partnership.