VA in Alaska to add more than 100 staff
By adding 100 more staff members, the director of the Alaska VA said the organization will improve access to care for the state's veterans.
Dr. Timothy Ballard addressed improvements the VA is working to make, after negative reviews from both patients and staff. He said the 100 new positions are focused on mental health care and support functions. It grows the staff at the Alaska VA from 550 to 650 at a cost of $6 million. Ballard said the money is being "repurposed" from other places in the budget.
When asked why some of the jobs are focused on mental health, Ballard said it's because the current staff is over-used, so they sometimes have to send patients outside the system for care. By expanding what they can offer, he said it's a win-win for veterans and the VA.
"Any opportunity that we can have staff in-house to provide those mental health services -- it's at a significant benefit to the veteran because they get more timely access to that care but it's also at a fairly significant savings," said Ballard.
He said besides adding positions, they're also increasing the speed at which they're filling vacancies, down from six months to six weeks. For example, the Mat-Su Clinic has a physician for the first time in five years, with another starting in March.
Ballard said they've also seen improvements for veterans trying to schedule appointments. When the Choice Program first started, vets had to use out-of-state call centers to set up visits, which caused a lot of issues. Ballard said they've brought scheduling back in-house and resolved a lot of those problems.
Along with a rise in staff morale, he said things are looking up for the Alaska VA.
"The light at the end of the tunnel is getting larger and larger every day with the degree of resources we've put together to take care of veterans and there's a lot of exciting opportunities to come in the future," said Ballard