Begich Pushes for Improved Benefits Services for Veterans
Also affirms need for Interior Alaska veterans cemetery
U.S. Sen. Mark Begich yesterday reinforced his priority of improving veterans' services in Alaska, particularly those living in rural areas with slow or no access to the Internet. Begich, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs committee, was at a confirmation hearing for retired Brigadier General Allison Hickey, the nominee to be Under Secretary for Benefits, Veterans Benefits Administration; and Steve Muro, nominee for Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs, National Cemetery Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs.
Begich spoke out on behalf of Alaska veterans who need more timely access and better information about benefits. Begich applauded the Veterans Administration's (VA) move to paperless and on-line benefit applications, but cautioned it can take over 30 minutes to download forms in rural areas where broadband speeds can be very slow.
"As you think about your internal system...keeping in mind some areas may be connected but don't have the speed to do it appropriately," Begich said.
Begich asked Gen. Hickey, if confirmed, to consider adding more staff to the Alaska VA offices particularly to focus on timelier processing of claims. Begich pointed out that Alaska claims are often sent to other parts of the country for processing. Referencing outreach efforts to homeless veterans, Begich emphasized the need for the VA to do a better job of ensuring homeless veterans are aware of the benefits they have earned and deserve.
"I know when we have brought VA officials to Alaska, especially visiting rural communities, they have been surprised at the number of veterans who don't know what they are entitled to because they don't have easy access to VA information," Begich said after the hearing. "I will continue to bring this to the VAs attention any chance I get."
In his questions and answers with Mr. Muro, Sen. Begich emphasized that while the veterans cemeteries in Sitka and Anchorage serve a large segment of the state, there is still a need for Interior Alaska to have a resting place for veterans. Mr. Muro confirmed the VA is working with the State of Alaska and Fairbanks is on the VA list of future veterans' cemetery sites.
You can watch the exchanges on the Senator's YouTube Channel:
Part One - Includes discussion on Alaska VA offices & homeless veterans
Part Two - Includes discussion on Interior Alaska veterans cemetery and digital benefit applications