to recent census data, there are over 1300 veterans in the borough of Kodiak.
Just over 300 of those are registered with the Department of Veterans Affairs
to receive health benefits. Representatives from the VA have a booth at Crab
Fest this weekend to encourage veterans to take advantage of the benefits
Bair, director of the VA's Rural
Center, says that the
Department of Defense and the VA don't have an efficient system of sharing
information, so it's up to the veteran to register for their benefits.
"One of the things that the VA and
Dept of Defense are working on right now is how to share that data between the
agencies better so that we can identify them. For instance, all of the current
duty individuals who are discharged from their active duty, we don't get that
information directly from the DOD. The only way we know is if they come and
register in the VA so we can give them the care and access that they deserve."
oftentimes a veteran might not actually consider themselves a veteran and
therefore the miss out on benefits they're entitled to.
discovered that there are a lot of veterans who don't even consider
themselves to be veterans. For instance, there's a misunderstanding that if you
weren't in a combat area then you're not a veteran. That's simply not true.
Especially in older veterans who may have served in World War II or Korea, women
that participated in the armed forced might not even think of themselves as
veterans but are eligible for benefits. Many people in rural communities who've
served in the armed forces don't primarily think of themselves first as
veterans and so sometimes reminding them of that service allows them to get
access to care that they wouldn't otherwise have."
If you know
a veteran, then you've probably heard the horror stories about being turned
away at the VA clinic for care. Susan Yeager is the Rural Health Program
Coordinator for the VA. She admits that she's heard those stories, too. What
the VA can cover is governed by Congress and so over time things change. It's
not ideal, but if a vet has been turned away in the past for treatment of a
condition, Yeager says they should keep trying.
"Particularly with some Vietnam
veterans, but with other veterans too, is that things have changed over the
years. We really encourage veterans to come back and give the VA another
chance. I'll just give you an example of Agent Orange for Vietnam
veterans. There's now a recognized link between Agent Orange exposure and
certain medical conditions, so some veterans in the past may have come to the
VA and were told ‘Oh no, you're not qualified for these services,' but now we
know more in the medical field."
that in her 32 years with the VA, the agency is at its best and continuing to
adjust to the needs of vets.
"The VA right now is at a much more
patient-centric state of mind. The culture of the VA now is really moving and
improved so much in realizing how valuable veterans are and that our mission is
to serve the veterans and to communicate with them and that's part of what we're
all doing here in our outreach is to help those veterans and educate them on
what benefits that they've earned and things have changed. We really encourage
people to come and talk to our team."
The VA will
be available at Crab Fest all weekend to help veterans get enrolled for
benefits or to answer questions. We'll air a full-length interview with the VA
representatives for Talk of the Rock on Tuesday. That show will be available
online with a list of resources for veterans seeking access to their benefits.