Kenai veterans want VA clinic on peninsula

Posted: Tuesday, May 30, 2000

KENAI (AP) -- Some veterans on the Kenai Peninsula are urging the federal government to set up a medical clinic on the peninsula or otherwise provide for local vets.

They say the nearest Veterans Administration treatment facility in Anchorage is too far for them to travel to see a doctor.

''It's a pretty bad situation,'' said Glenn Schrader from the Disabled American Veterans.

His group, other veterans' groups and health care providers are lobbying the VA. They want a peninsula VA clinic, visiting VA physicians or permission for peninsula doctors to provide eligible care.

The complaints stem from a VA policy consolidating services to its medical center in Anchorage. Before the center opened, peninsula residents could charge VA for more services obtained locally.

Central Peninsula General Hospital supports the veterans' advocacy effort, said hospital Director Marty Richman.

''I'm trying to assist them,'' he said. ''They are decent people who certainly deserve a shot.''

Others say the current system is adequate and cost-effective.

Jerry Books, satellite office coordinator at the Kenai Vet Center, which is funded through the VA, said health care benefits are still generous.

''I don't think there is a problem for the vast majority,'' he said. ''There are a lot of men who are very satisfied.''

Veterans with service-connected disabilities, emergency conditions or annual incomes below $27,000 can get VA reimbursement for care obtained anywhere, he said.

But those criteria leave out many veterans with major medical needs, Schrader and others say.

The VA's volunteer service runs a van twice a week to take people from the peninsula to appointments at the Anchorage center.

Schrader noted it takes an entire day for the van to pick up several people from their homes, drive to Anchorage, drive back and return people home. A 20-minute appointment can easily consume 12 hours or more.

He knows people whose medical conditions make the protracted travel time extremely uncomfortable or utterly impossible.

''If I'm pretty sick, I'll be darned if I want to go that route,'' he said.

The veterans have a committee working on the issue, and members have contacted Sen. Ted Stevens' office about the potential of getting a peninsula clinic.

Stevens' staff advised the group to document the needs, said Herb Stettler, service officer for the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion on the central peninsula.

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