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Alaska’s veteran population is rising.
The state has the highest veteran population rate per capita, topping 71,000 out of the 21 million in the United States. That number is expected to increase.
The arrival of F-35s at Eielson Air Force Base is responsible for much of that increase. Because as veterans retire, a certain number will choose to retain Alaska as their home.
Meanwhile, the age of veterans is lower. More than half are under the age of 65.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie visited Alaska recently, noting the VA situation in the state, the challenges it presents and how it can be addressed.
Wilkie says that the VA must reach out to Alaska’s veterans, but that the geographics create unique problems. The solutions might be in technology, including Telehealth.
He also says that more than half the veterans in Alaska have no contact with the VA. But to provide health care, particularly when it relates to opioid addiction and suicide, the VA will make a concerted effort to connect veterans in rural areas as well as population centers to its services. He noted that the VA has set up a crisis line (800-273-8255). It receives about 1,700 calls per day. Without voicemail, no caller waits more than an average eight seconds to talk to a human being.
VA service also is including veterans who might have been dishonorably discharged.
This Veterans Day weekend, according to Wilke, about 41 million Americans who have worn a uniform since the start of the Revolutionary War in April 1775 are being honored.
President Donald Trump will become the first president to attend the New York City Veterans Day parade on Monday.
Wilkie, in a pre-Veterans Day weekend press briefing, noted that the VA has the largest budget in its history at $220 billion for 400,000 employees.
The VA achieved its highest patient satisfaction rate ever of 89.7% in the past year. Its improvements in healthcare has prompted 3 million more appointments at the VA this year than the previous one.
The VA also is offering veterans for the first time the opportunity to take advantage of private sector health care. When the VA cannot provide the care or the distance to it is prohibitive, veterans may go to non-VA centers at VA expense, and the VA has certified 6,000 urgent care facilities to reduce veterans’ emergency room visits for ailments like the flu or a sprained ankle. Since June, veterans have visited urgent care facilities 70,000 times.
The VA also is establishing electronic health records for the first time and its reformed its supply chain and human resources departments.
The VA has reduced the number of opioid prescriptions written by 51% percent in the past year, Wilke says, adding the department often recommends acupuncture, music therapy and yoga — alternative care for anxiety.
Wilke has been the secretary of Veterans Affairs for 15 months.
His goal is to deliver for veterans like they have for the country.
Based on his Veterans Day report, he’s doing it and will be doing more of it in the next year.
Alaskans will benefit, and in increasing numbers.