VA Secretary outlines new facilities and funds planned for Alaska

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie (head of table) speaks to military representatives in Fairbanks. U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan is to his right. (Photo courtesy of Office of Dan Sullivan)

The federal veterans affairs agency plans major expansion in Alaska.

U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan says that includes both services and facilities.

“In Fairbanks, in the Mat-Su Valley, in Anchorage, in the Kenai and in Juneau. That is going to be significant construction,” Sullivan said. “But most importantly, it is going to be able to deliver better services for the men and women who serve in our military.”

Sullivan spoke in Fairbanks this afternoon, along with U.S. Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs Robert Wilkie, who describes the planned VA Alaska expansion as part of nationwide push to improve service.

”It is my goal to open up the aperture on funds that can come to Alaska to help in the elimination and prevention of suicide,” Wilkie said. “We’re doing that with homelessness and I think we’re on the right path.”

Secretary Wilke says he’s presented the largest budget in VA history: $220 billion, money he says can help Alaska, as state funds for health and social service programs are cut. Wilkie also pointed to nationwide VA reforms being piloted in the state.

”Electronic health records are going to be tested in Anchorage. The reforms of our supply chain will be tested here in Alaska,” Wilkie said. “There’s a reason for that. It’s one place in America where you go and you don’t have to explain military service to anyone.”

Alaska has the highest per capita percentage of veterans in the county, but Wilkie noted that 50 percent do not access VA programs, one of the problems the recently-launched Mission Act, addresses.

”Get people out with this funding into the hinterlands to go find those folks who are not part of our system,” Wilkie said.

Wilkie and Sullivan spoke after a closed hearing with local veterans, meetings Sullivan says highlight a familiar problem.

”The VA is a big bureaucracy. It’s bureaucratic,” Sullivan said. “It can be frustrating.”

Sullivan says the expansion of federal VA facilities and staff in Alaska should help, noting that the state was recognized last year by the VA for most improved patient service.

Sullivan and Wilkie emphasized that Alaska’s veteran population is expected to increase with the basing of F-35’s at Eielson Air Force Base, and the ongoing buildup of missile defense facilities in the state.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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