Group calls for changes in Alaska Guard

Posted: Monday, October 13, 2008

Washington, D.C.-based Veterans For America released the report after a weeklong trip to Alaska.

The report says the Guard was deployed without the proper programs in place to care for returning troops. It primarily blames "inadequate leadership."

As 2007 wrapped up, 80 percent of the Guard had been deployed overseas since the 9/11 attacks.

About 140 members of the 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment are set to start mobilizing in December.

The report was particularly critical of what it called a lack of access to health care.

It notes that guardsmen in major cities have limited access to Veterans Affairs benefits. It also says about one-quarter live in rural areas and must spend more than $1,000 to travel to Anchorage.

"The families of Guard deployed from rural Alaska were hit very hard," the report states. "For instance, those on public assistance lost their food stamps and Medicare eligibility when their husbands were deployed because their household income temporarily increased."

The report calls for "radical changes" in the way the Guard is run, including accepting reimbursements from Veterans Affairs and mandatory face-to-face mental and physical health screenings. The group advocates a halt to Guard deployments until the issues can be settled.

The state's Department of Military and Veterans Affairs calls the report's conclusion "unsubstantiated."

"The Alaska National Guard is a professional organization that works hard to ensure its guardsmen and families receive the highest level of care, and this report has substantial claims that need to be corrected," said department commissioner Maj. Gen. Craig Campbell.

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