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Senator Begich Speaks on VA Health Care

Alaska has over 77 thousand veterans. Many of them receive medical care through the V-A health care system, which has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks. However, the system in Alaska does appear to not have some of the same problems that have been documented in other areas.

U.S. Senator Mark Begich held a press conference Thursday to discuss the problems veteran clinics in the lower 48 are facing and the care veterans receive in Alaska. The press conference featured speakers from the US Department of Veterans Affairs and members of the medical field. Senator Begich says in 2009 Alaska invited Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to see the problems veterans in rural Alaska faced.

“So he could see exactly the impact of our veterans in rural parts of this state. And how hard it is sometimes to deliver care to our veterans when they have to fly from there or they have to fly from their village to a hub and from a hub to Anchorage. Or if the service isn’t here then they have to fly all the way to Seattle. ”

Director of the Alaska Veteran Affairs System Susan Yeager says the biggest challenge she sees in the clinics is in finding staff in rural Alaska to hire on full time.

“We are utilizing some physicians in the lower 48, at Boise, believe it or not Florida and Colorado. So the veterans can still come into the veteran medical and see that remote provider."

Despite that challenge, Begich says the Alaska VA health care system provides a model that other states should look to for future reference. Although proud of the system in Alaska, the senator says he’s outraged by the problems found within the VA system.

“The issue in Arizona is appalling, it’s outrageous. We need to hold people accountable especially in that situation and if the justice department needs to be brought in, absolutely. But we need to also focus on how to fix this problem. Just getting rid of people doesn’t fix this problem. And also how quickly will we replace those people? And we got to continue to fix the problem or there will be veterans without care.”

President Obama accepted Secretary Shinseki’s resignation earlier today.