Some 75,000 veterans consider Alaska home. We are home to more veterans per capita than any other state. Ensuring that the Veterans Administration has adequate resources to serve the needs of the current generation of veterans and those of conflicts past is one of Congress' most important responsibilities. I currently serve on the VA Appropriations Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
In recent years, the VA has struggled with inadequate appropriations to support veterans health and cash flow challenges due to delays in finalizing its annual appropriations bills. I joined with major Veterans Service Organizations to alleviate this crisis through legislation which provides advance appropriations to the VA health care delivery system. Thanks to this legislation the VA receives two years of health appropriations each year so it always begins the federal fiscal year knowing what its base funding will be. I strongly supported the Post 9/11 GI Bill, particularly the provisions which allow service members to transfer their earned GI Bill benefits to family members. My leadership on these issues caused the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to name me to their "A Team."
I am thrilled that Congress passed the Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act, which I co-sponsored. For too long, the VA has adhered to a "one size fits all" culture. The Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act requires the VA to respond to the unique needs of women veterans. As more and more veterans face difficulty in finding employment when their service is concluded, I helped introduce the Veterans Employment Act of 2010. The act would expand job training, placement services, educational opportunities and small business assistance programs for veterans. The bill would also allow veterans to use their earned GI Bill benefits for vocational and technical training. Our fighting men and women deserve to come home to a bright future.
I have also fought to ensure that the federal government honors their obligations under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act to put National Guardsmen returning from active duty back to work. I strongly support legislation that would eliminate restrictions on concurrent receipt and end the Survivors Benefit Plan/Dependency and Indemnity Compensation offset, better known as the "widows tax."
Alaska's veterans earned their benefits just like veterans who live in other states. However, unlike veterans in most other states, veterans who live in rural Alaska have no road access to the nearest VA facility, which may be several hundred miles away from their homes. Under the auspices of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, I conducted field hearings to remind the VA of its obligations to care for returning Alaska National Guardsmen, regardless of where in Alaska they choose to live. I continue to press the VA to work with the Alaska's Native health care delivery system and our network of community health centers to reach Alaska veterans where they live. I have worked with the VA to ensure that their rural Alaska pilot project includes behavioral health services.
Even veterans in Alaska's bigger towns are often unable to access health care close to home -- even when accredited treatment facilities are available locally. This is an issue I raised with Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and one I will continue to pursue. There is no reasonable explanation why a veteran must travel out of state -- sometimes for six weeks or more -- in order to receive routine treatments like chemotherapy. This causes unnecessary financial hardship and family separation.
I am deeply concerned about the delay in processing the disability claims of Alaska veterans and have pressed the Veterans Benefits Administration to beef up staffing in its Anchorage office. I have also fought to station a fully qualified Decision Review Officer in the Anchorage.
I also fight to ensure that our military retirees have access to their earned TRICARE benefits. I am pressing TRICARE to recruit more Alaska physicians into the TRICARE network. I led a successful effort to expand behavioral health services to TRICARE recipients by including Alaska-licensed Psychological Associates in its network. In 2009, I led the effort to delay implementation of a TRICARE regulation which threatened to close military treatment facilities for TRICARE beneficiaries who live more than 30 minutes or 100 miles from the base on which they were seeking medical care.