Alaska VA stands down for Southeast vets

The Color Guard posts the flags at the beginning of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs first ever “€œStand Down”€ event in Southeast Alaska. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

More than 800 military vets attended the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs first ever “Stand Down” in Southeast Alaska last week.

“Stand Down” events are designed to give veterans access to health care and housing services, both from the VA and local nonprofits.

A new agreement between the VA and Alaska Native health care providers should make it easier for vets in rural Alaska to access those services.

Alaska VA Spokeswoman Marcia Hoffman-DeVoe says the agreement, signed in May, allows Native health providers to directly bill the VA for care provided to veterans.

“Even though we have probably the largest geographic area of any state, our veterans in Alaska will probably have the best access to either directly provided VA health care or care that we purchase from a community or Alaska Native provider,” says Hoffman-DeVoe.

Lincoln Bean, Sr. of Kake addressed the group about the importance of veterans receiving appropriate services.

Lincoln Bean, Sr. of Kake addressed the group about the importance of veterans receiving appropriate services. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

Lincoln Bean, Sr. of Kake is a board member for the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium and Alaska Native Health Systems. He’s not a veteran himself, but he helped negotiate the agreement, because when he was growing up, those who served were among the most respected members of his community.

“World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan. And I kept hearing they’re not getting the benefits they should be getting,” Bean says. “And that’s why this is happening today.”

While Anchorage and Fairbanks have hosted “Stand Downs” for years, the event at Centennial Hall Friday and Saturday was the first one held in Southeast Alaska. It’s part of the VA’s effort to expand its presence in the state. The Southeast Native Veterans group opened the event with the Presentation of Colors.

Tony Mills is an Army vet from Hoonah, who served during Vietnam. He says he’s had issues with the VA in the past. During a visit to a VA clinic in Anchorage in 1998, Mills says the doctor didn’t even know what branch of the service he’d been in.

“He said, ‘How long were you in the Marine Corp?’ I told him, ‘Marine Corp? I never was in that Marine Corp,'” Mills says. “I told him I got drafted into the Army.”

Mills says he’s glad to hear about the new sharing agreement, which he plans to take advantage of at the SEARHC clinic in Hoonah. He also says the two-year-old VA clinic in Juneau’s Federal Building should make it easier to access the medical tests he needs.

“I’ll be coming back this coming Wednesday for the hearing test over here. I guess they’re gonna have it up on the sixth floor,” he says. “And the Coast Guard doctor from Mt. Edgecumbe [Hospital], he came over, and he’s the one who got me going on this.”

“Stand Down” events date back to Vietnam, when frontline soldiers would rotate to a safe and secure area for hot meals, medical treatment, and new uniforms. Traditionally, non-combat “Stand Downs” focus on homeless vets and vets in need.

Ex-Marine Dan Roberts considers supplies offered at the Department of Veterans Affairs "Stand Down" event in Juneau.

Ex-Marine Dan Roberts considers supplies offered at the Department of Veterans Affairs “Stand Down” event in Juneau. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

The VA brought two semi-truck loads of military surplus gear to Juneau for the Southeast “Stand Down.” Socks, underwear, jackets, backpacks and other supplies filled one of the ballrooms at Centennial Hall, available to any vet who needed something.

Ex-Marine Dan Roberts came looking for a new sleeping bag.

“I sleep on my boat and it gets kind of chilly now, because I don’t use my heater at night,” Roberts says.

As he collected his new sleeping bag from a volunteer, Roberts talked about how much it and all the other supplies mean to him.

“Shoes, bag, sleeping bag deluxe, and other clothing, socks and underwear, you name it,” he says. “I’m overwhelmed.”

For those veterans who couldn’t make it to the “Stand Down” in Juneau, the VA arranged for gear to be shipped to smaller communities throughout Southeast. The VA’s Marcia Hoffman-DeVoe says the agency would like to see a local nonprofit organize it into an annual event.

Recent headlines

  • Mental Health Trust leaders resign while organization undergoes special audit

    In the past month, the top three leaders at the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority have submitted letters of resignation. The shake up comes at a time when the organization, which manages funds for mental health and substance abuse programming across the state, is undergoing a special legislative audit over concerns about financial mismanagement.
  • Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan after the Department of the Interior's surprise announcement of the cancellation of off-shore drilling leases at the 2015 Alaska Federation of Natives Convention. (Photo by Mikko Wilson/KTOO)

    Alaska senators fault Trump’s tack on racist rally

    Alaska’s U.S. senators have issued a second round of statements following the rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia. This time their criticisms are aimed at President Donald Trump.
  • On Nov. 13, 2012, a narrow corridor in the southern hemisphere experienced a total solar eclipse.  The corridor lay mostly over the ocean but also cut across the northern tip of Australia where both professional and amateur astronomers gathered to watch. (Photos courtesy of Romeo Durscher/NASA)

    Solar eclipse has stargazers excited all over the U.S.

    States across the lower 48 will get to see a full solar eclipse Monday, August 21, as the moon slides directly in front of the sun for roughly two minutes. People from all over the world are flocking to towns that will fall under the path of the moon’s shadow.
  • Kris Hill-McLaughlin and 26 other recent high school graduates participated this summer in Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program's Bridge program on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus. In ANSEP students are encouraged to enter science, technology, engineering and math careers. (Photo by Kayla Desroches/KMXT)

    STEM program guides Kodiak student from middle school to college

    A science, technology, engineering, and math program geared towards Alaska Native students has guided one Kodiak local through both middle school and high school. And now, he’s off to college.