VBA’s Benefits Assistance Service (BAS), in conjunction with the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and the State of Alaska, held a targeted outreach campaign in Alaska from June 6-13, 2019. This campaign included claims clinics and benefits briefings in Anchorage, Palmer, Delta Junction, and Fairbanks; a stakeholder roundtable event, and welcome fairs for distributing VA information and materials.
Alaska has 348 communities, and 161 of them cannot be accessed by roads. Additionally, 1 in 9 people in Alaska is a Veteran–and less than half are enrolled with VA.
VBA employees from several regional offices came together to provide information and services to Veterans and their families in a series of claims clinics. Employees worked long days and answered many questions from Veterans who had little or no previous interaction with VA. Their efforts resulted in over 180 new claims from Veterans and multiple claims decisions processed and paid on-the spot. Coordination with VHA resulted in over 20 C&P exams being completed during the Anchorage claims clinic. The claims clinics were conducted in conjunction with benefits briefings from June 6th to June 13th, 2019, in 4 communities in rural areas: Anchorage, during the National Veterans Golden Age Games, Palmer at a Pioneers Home (rural area), Delta Junction at the Moose Lodge (rural area), and at Fairbanks in a community center (rural area).
The Stakeholder Roundtable was held on June 7, 2019, at the Alaska VA Healthcare Clinic. The roundtable was facilitated by Julie Carie, Director of the Anchorage and Portland Regional Offices, and it had 15 attendees to include the Director, Alaska Office of Veterans Affairs, the Acting Commissioner, Department of Fish and Game, several executives from across VA, and other state and local community members and leaders. Discussions were extremely productive and included challenges Alaska Veterans face, how the VA and other partners can assist, how to increase awareness of VA benefits and services, and the development of a new committee to improve outreach and services to rural Veterans in Alaska.
One of the challenges identified was a lack of high-speed internet, which limits information sharing from webpages. To overcome this challenge, VBA created thumb drives with information from all VBA business lines, who to contact, and information specific to AK Veterans. Over 4,500 thumb drives were distributed. This was an important part of the campaign, helping Veterans access VA’s information even in those remote areas where connectivity is not available. Veterans and other members of the community, including representatives from Senators Sullivan and Murkowski’s offices, as well as Congressman Young’s office, found the thumb drive to be very useful.
This campaign brought together community and government officials, Congressional and Senate representatives, as well as parties from across VA and the VSO community, as well as an eagerness to continue regular dialogue to increase awareness and VA enrollment for Alaska Veterans.
Monica Rivera is a chief at VBA’s national outreach office.