VA Officials in Town to Help Veterans


Jennifer Canfield/KMXT

According 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 they’ve earned.

Dr. Byron Bair, director of the VA’s Rural Health Resource 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."

Bair says oftentimes a veteran might not actually consider themselves a veteran and therefore the miss out on benefits they’re entitled to.

"We have 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."

Yeager says 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.


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