veterans

Alaska VA Healthcare

For central Kenai Peninsula veterans, a new clinic in Soldotna is a nicer, bigger, more convenient location to get VA services. For the Veterans Administration, the facility represents more than just what it offers to local vets. It, and a new clinic that opened in Homer in 2020, represents a federal initiative to improve VA healthcare delivery throughout Alaska.

“We’re committed to serving our veterans across the state. Each one of our community-based outpatient clinics are being increased in size to provide better services and better access for our veterans. And, so, the Kenai Borough has benefitted from being on the tip of the spear, if you will," said Tom Steinbrunner, director of the Alaska VA healthcare system. 

Courtesy of Alaska Warrior Partnership

Alaska has the highest rate of veterans per capita of any state in the country.

For a while, the organization that coordinated support services for Alaska veterans was the Alaska Coalition for Veterans and Military Families.

But the coalition has disbanded. Now, there’s a new organization filling that gap — the Alaska Warrior Partnership. 

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

Veterans in the Soldotna area will have a brand new medical clinic to visit soon.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Soldotna resident Al Hershberger was just 18 when he enlisted in World War II. He was part of a field artillery battalion of almost 80 Americans that helped on the frontlines of the war in Europe in the early 1940s.

Now, at 95, Hershberger he thinks he’s the last surviving member of his battalion. We spoke with him about what Memorial Day means to him, how he reconnected with members of his battalion later in life and what it was like revisiting Germany as an adult.

Courtesy of Naida McGee

Alaska’s oldest World War II veteran, 103-year-old Hallie Dixon, decoded and encrypted messages for the Navy as a telegrapher during the war. And that wasn’t even her greatest adventure.

“My father heard the call to come to the Last Frontier to make his way as a young man out of the service, back in the days when Alaska was offering homestead land, especially for veterans," said Niada McGee, Hallie’s daughter.

“And so he came as an aircraft mechanic and worked on Merrill Field, and she came and joined him in January of 1951, in a ground blizzard at 30 below zero with three little children and pregnant with number four. And she went on to raise 11 children in the far away isolation of Alaska.”

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

He looks like a lot of other soldiers. Shouldering his pack and carrying his gun, he looks out across Soldotna Creek Park from a pedestal beneath the flags, eyes on the horizon. A crowd greets him with applause and cheers.

Iron Mike, a statue representing soldiers and veterans of the U.S. military, was unveiled in the park on the Fourth of July, the culmination of nearly five years of anticipation. The Soldotna VFW post asked the city for permission to put the statue in the park and began raising money for it in 2015, and on Saturday, veterans pulled the tarp off for the final time.

The Alaska Coalition for Veterans and Military Families is a statewide organization that seeks to cut through the red tape for Alaskas veterans and military families as they seek to navigate the maze that are veteran benefits. Executive Director Megen James joins host Jay Barrett.