Finding help for Alaska's veterans

Letter to the editor

Posted: Sunday, January 04, 2004

Alaska's problem is that Congress increased Veterans Administration (VA) funds, but veterans and veterans needing VA help increased even more. So VA cut veterans' benefits in war time, no longer even letting some veterans sign up for VA benefits!

In Alaska, VA starting in 2003 ruled all veterans had to see VA doctors (only in Anchorage or Kenai). Before, Alaska veterans just went to local doctors, who VA paid. Now, many Alaska veterans must travel hundreds of miles. That travel money is not spent on medical care.

One Barrow veteran supposedly said he had to go to Anchorage to get his blood pressure taken; I personally had to fly 500-plus miles to talk to an Anchorage VA surgeon!

Alaska has four different medical systems for just 700,000 people: military, VA, private and Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC). That's too many systems for so few people.

ANTHC recently took over most Indian Health Service (IHS) functions. So assistant U.S. district attorneys defend ANTHC providers, who stepped into federal IHS "shoes."

So ANTHC providers could contract with the VA to provide medical services to veterans outside Anchorage. Native corporations could help shareholders get high-paying "knowledge worker" medical jobs and could help Alaska veterans, too.

Who pays? Head of Indian Health Service Dr. Charles Grimm said that 30 percent of IHS grant money goes unused. ANTHC providers can use the IHS grant money!

Just resolve conflicts between for-pay ANTHC's VA patients and ANTHC's beneficiaries - everyone take a number? It's a win-win-win solution!

Joe Sonneman


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