Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman Editorial: In Search of Solutions to VA Staffing

Would it be too bold of us to say that perhaps the Veterans Administration could solve the issue of how to provide care to Valley veterans without its meager clinic in Mat-Su?

We aren’t advocating for its closure. But we do appreciate the out-of-the-box work around that is serving VA patients during this time when the clinic is staffed with just one nurse practitioner.

A press release arrived today saying the VA will increase by $25,000 to $35,000 what it pays in-coming doctors and dentists. While that should help hire and retain medical professionals in the long term, in the near-term, veterans are being referred for care at other Valley clinics, including the Valley Native Primary Care Center.

Veterans have told us for months about their issues accessing care at the Wasilla clinic. They also say before there was a clinic here it was actually easier to get needed care.

Before the VA had facilities here, vets tell us they were referred to other local providers. And there are many who say they preferred that system.

Now, with the VA building and maintaining its own clinics and hospitals in Alaska, vets are shuttled to those clinics for care instead.

One tireless advocate for improving veterans health care access has been U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. It was her special attention on staffing problems in the Wasilla VA clinic that lead to its federal review. We appreciate her leadership on this issue and the time her staff have dedicated to helping local veterans resolve issues accessing the care they were promised when they enlisted in our nation’s military.

We hope the increase in pay being offered will help the Wasilla clinic can hire and retain doctors. But, back to our original point: what if we don’t find one? What if we could serve veterans better some other way?

We’re already seeing a little bit of what that might look like now. Vets are already being referred to other facilities like the Benteh Nuutah on Knik-Goose Bay Road. It’s a federally funded health care clinic, just from a different account.

We have not heard many complaints about that clinic, which is usually a good sign that people are satisfied.

Southcentral Foundation, which operates the clinic as well as one in Anchorage on the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Campus, has years of experience operating health care facilities and has a better track record than the VA of keeping them well staffed.

So maybe instead of trying to make that clinic work, the VA should take a hard look at deepening the ties it has to providers like the Southcentral Foundation.

Whatever the solution, we hope that it comes quickly quickly. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: we must do better by our veterans. We made them a promise when we sent them to war. Reneging is out of question and just our heartfelt “thanks” isn’t nearly good enough.