Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman Editorial: Health Care a Daily Thank-You to Vets

Every year at about this time we write a pretty similar editorial thanking the service men and women among us for their time spent protecting this country.

This year, we have quite a bit more to say.

That’s because this year we wrote a series of stories about problems at our local Veterans Administration clinic.

The clinic, on Seward Meridian Parkway, has had more trouble than even an Alaskan facility should in recruiting and keeping doctors. There has not been a doctor there since August. There is a nurse practitioner there but quite a few of our local vets have been referred out to the Benteh Nuutah Valley Native Primary Care Center.

When we first reported on the lack of doctors at the facility we fielded a barrage of phone calls from veterans frustrated with the way their health care has been handled.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski sought an investigation into the situation, citing frustrations but also a suicide that happened outside the clinic when R.K. Butts, a regular contributor to the Frontiersman, took his own life. Suicides are a shocking part of veterans health care. A 2013 report from the Department of Veterans Affairs found rates of suicide among vets that equal out to 22 veterans taking their own lives each day. As a perennial national leader in rates of suicide, we must be national leaders in helping our service members choose life.

We mention suicide here because we think this is a solid indicator that we must do more to care for, to help heal the men and women we sent into harm’s way in our name. That so many soldiers take their own lives on a daily basis is our failure as a nation. We have not supported our troops.

The investigation Murkowski called for is currently ongoing. Call her and voice your support. Call Sen. Mark Begich and Congressman Don Young and tell them we must do more to care for our returning veterans.

We bring this up because today is Veterans Day and the day is one we set aside as a nation to thank those who served on our behalf. It seems clear that our gratitude alone is insufficient to repay this debt.

We believe that the way we say thank you on a daily basis is to honor promises we made to the people who signed up to serve on our behalf.

We make plenty of promises including offering to pay for tuition and to train veterans with skill useful in the marketplace. But the main promise we make is through the VA, that if you serve your country honorably we will make sure that you don’t have to worry about finding or paying for healthcare for yourself.

When we hear about waiting lists and clinics without doctors, we don’t like it. Promises made in our name must be kept in our name. We tend to take it personal and so should you.

So we are glad that vets seem to be getting good care from Benteh Nuutah. We are also glad that the Alaska VA Health care System Director Susan Yeager plans to be here on Thursday to talk to vets about their problems with the system.

Our hope is that this meeting goes better than the last one we went to, where Lisa Murkowski heard heartbreaking story after heartbreaking story of veterans banging their heads against the walls of bureaucracy.

We need to do better. Let’s hope the VA understands that and is up to meeting this challenge for all our service members.