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SEARHC signs agreement to provide local care for veterans

The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) is one of 14 Alaska Native tribal health programs to sign an agreement with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that will allow Alaska veterans living in rural communities to seek health care closer to home.

The Alaska VA Healthcare System has very few clinics in Alaska (Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Kenai). Even though many Alaska Native/American Indian veterans living in rural Alaska had access to a tribal health facility in their community, they frequently had to travel to one of the Alaska VA clinics or even Seattle, sometimes at their own expense, in order to receive care from the Veterans Health Administration. This agreement will allow eligible veterans (those who have registered for VA benefits) to receive care in their home community through SEARHC. It also allows SEARHC to be eligible to be reimbursed by the VA for providing that care. Under the agreement, non-Native veterans also will be able to receive care at the participating tribal health facilities.

“The agreement is the result of years of work by both the Alaska Tribal Health System and the Alaska VA Healthcare System, with support from Sen. Mark Begich,” SEARHC President/CEO Charles Clement said. “The goal of the agreement is to enable tribal health organizations to provide care for veterans either in their home community or closer to home. Both parties are committed to providing Alaska veterans with the highest level of care possible, and to enjoy a continuity of care that was not often possible when they had to travel out of state to receive health care.”

Sen. Mark Begich, who sits on the Veterans Affairs Committee, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski both praised the deal when it was announced on May 4, calling it a historic agreement.

“Alaska Native veterans tell me all the time they’d rather receive health care at the clinic across the street in their village than spend money and time traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to a VA clinic,” Sen. Begich said. “This is truly a great step toward ensuring all of Alaska’s veterans can receive the care they need, when they need it, and in the most cost-effective and timely way.”

“Coming from rural Alaska didn’t keep thousands of Alaskans from serving their country, and Alaska’s veteran community should not be kept from the medical care they need because of geography,” Sen. Murkowski said. “From my first day in the U.S. Senate, ensuring that veterans are not disenfranchised from their earned VA benefits by reason of geography has been a core priority. … Local care for rural Alaska veterans does not mean care in Anchorage. It means care close to home when it is available.”

One of the reasons for the signing of the agreement is the strength of the Alaska Tribal Health System, which gives all of Alaska’s tribal health organizations a single, powerful voice. In addition to SEARHC, the other tribal health organizations signing these sharing and reimbursement agreements with the VA are the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Arctic Slope Native Association Ltd., Chickaloon Village Traditional Council, Chugachmiut, Copper River Native Association, Eastern Aleutian Tribes Inc., Ketchikan Indian Community, Kenaitze Indian Tribe, Kodiak Area Native Association, Native Village of Eklutna, Southcentral Foundation, Tanana Chiefs Conference and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation.

“The Alaska Tribal Health System includes tribal health organizations across the state who have come together to review the agreement and agree by consensus to accept and sign it,” Clement said. “This is significant, as many other states do not have one cohesive group such as the Alaska Tribal Health System, and individual tribes work independently to accomplish goals such as this. Another reason the signing of the agreement is significant is because the Alaska Tribal Health System is the first tribal group in the nation to create and sign such a document in partnership with the Alaska VA Healthcare System.”

In order to be eligible to receive VA care through SEARHC, veterans need to be enrolled with the Veterans Health Administration. SEARHC has staff who are trained to help veterans get enrolled for VA health care services. There are four employees who are coordinating VA enrollment services at SEARHC — Juanita DeRose (364-4465) for SEARHC patients in Juneau, Judy Mills (966-8307) and Michael Lang (966-8488) for Sitka patients, and Nellie Kookesh (966-8814) for patients who live in our other SEARHC communities. Please contact your local SEARHC health care facility if you have any questions.

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