Alaska VA Spreading Word of Tribal Veteran Representative Program

The Alaska VA Healthcare System is working to get the word out about their Tribal Veteran Representative program. TVRs volunteer to get training to assist Native veterans in their communities with filing VA paperwork to access benefits through the VA system.

Marcia Hoffman Devoe is the Alaska VA healthcare spokeswoman. She says it’s a simple, one page form for someone to nominate a community person to be their TVR.

“It might be the tribal council or tribal government, or often times since we work with health care organizations,  it may be someone within the health care organization. That tells us as a VA federal facility this person is vetted by an organization within their community,” Devoe said.

Hoffman Devoe says the TVRs get three days of training. She says currently there are 35 TVRs in Alaska but the goal is to have 65 more trained in 2012. She says they hope to get people in positions all across the state.

“There’s not as many in interior Alaska , and I don’t think we have anyone in Aleutian chain but we have several in Southeast Alaska, several on the Kenai peninsula, we’re as far north as Barrow, Kotzebue and Nome. We have some in Western Alaska, so we are getting a pretty good representation throughout the state,” Devoe said.

The positions are not VA jobs, but are instead community volunteers who want to help their fellow veterans. Williard Jackson Sr is a TVR in Ketchikan. Jackson is a Vietnam vet who served with the Army’s 82nd Airborne infantry division. He’s been a Tribal Veteran Representative for five years. He says all veterans are entitled to something in the system, whether it’s health care, home loans or education. He says this is important for young men and women just coming home.

“They’re not coming in the system. We really need to get them registered. They’re at a 3 year window to apply for schooling. Once that’s over, it’s a long struggle for them to get back in to go to schooling,” Jackson said.

Jackson stresses the importance of getting registered as soon as veterans get home.

He says he has found that in helping other veterans he also benefits from the experience.

“It’s an honor to work with the Iraqi vets and Afghanistan vets. It not only helps them it helps me also. It helps me process a lot of stuff that I forgot, I think those that are coming on board, if they look at it in that aspect it would certainly help them in their process with Post Traumatic Stress or any other issue that are connect to a combat issue,” Jackson said.

The VA pays for travel and lodging for the person being nominated for the training. 65 more TVRs are needed in Alaska and the next training will be scheduled in Anchorage in the spring of 2012. Hoffman Devoe says information will be posted on the Alaska VA website in December.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 18 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications with veteran Alaskan broadcasters Nellie Moore, D’Anne Hamilton, Len Anderson, Sharon McConnell and Veronica Iya. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori