Murkowski Calls for VA Improvements in "Closer to Home" Care

Senator Urges Veterans Care to Incorporate Rural Alaska Needs, Opportunities

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator Lisa Murkowski pushed for improved service for Alaska’s widely-dispersed veteran community from Veterans Affairs Secretary Erik Shinseki – while expressing her appreciation to Shinseki for “incremental progress” in recent improvements in VA care provided Alaskans.

“We’ve seen a 38% reduction in vets who have to travel out of state for care,” observed Murkowski.  “That’s good progress, but as we’ve discussed there are still those who are sent outside to Seattle when there is care available in Alaska … Can you speak to where the trends are going on referrals outside, and the VA’s goals in reducing these referrals?”

“We have overall intent here,” responded Secretary Shinseki. “We’ve gotten good momentum.  I’ll assure that we’ll continue to look at this.  We know what the intent here is. And where all those considerations are balanced, we’ll decide in favor of the veteran being closer to home.”

After testimony from Dr. Robert Petzel, the VA Undersecretary for Health (pictured), the Senator reminded them of the possibilities of collaboration with rural health care facilities.  “We have opportunities with sharing arrangements with IHS facilities, with the clinics in the villages to provide a level of care,” Murkowski pointed out. “Because whether it’s 3 and half hours to Seattle, or whether it’s 3 and a half hours from Aleknagik to Anchorage, it still requires the veteran to leave their home; it still requires them to be in a big city with no family, with high expenses for transportation and lodging while they are there.”

Senator Murkowski questioned these VA officials during a Senate Appropriations Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee hearing.