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Air Force Times: Senators: Let rural vets use Indian Health Service

The success of an Alaska program that gives veterans the option of being treated at Indian Health Service clinics could be a model for other states, said Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska.

“It would not work everywhere, but it could be a benefit in some states for veterans who live far from [Veterans Affairs Department] clinics and medical centers,” Begich said in an interview.

North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, is exploring the possibility of having the same option in her state, but there could be opposition from major veterans’ organizations who don’t want VA health programs to be replaced by non-VA care.

The 2-year-old Heroes Health Card program in Alaska was a Begich initiative to address an Alaska-unique issue: many veterans living in areas inaccessible by road. One example, he recalls, was a veteran living in the village of Kwigillingok who had to spend more than $2,000 to travel to Anchorage to receive medical treatment.

“Eighty percent of villages in Alaska are not accessible by road,” Begich said of a state that has about 80,000 veterans, about 14,000 of whom receive compensation for service-connected disabilities.