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Veterans receive record levels of healthcare and benefits, Climbing Advocacy Conference


Veterans Affairs Healthcare System delivers more than 116 million healthcare appointments

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced this week record-setting levels of healthcare and benefits delivered to enrolled Veterans in fiscal year 2023. VA Under Secretary of Health, Dr. Shereef Elnahal, told reporters during a press call more details.

“The VA Healthcare System delivered more than 116 million healthcare appointments," Elnahal said. "When you combine appointments delivered in the direct care system and appointments delivered in the community, this is the most appointments that the VA healthcare system has delivered in VA history. That is commensurate with the increased demand that veterans are demanding of us to deliver more care. Our overall demographic of Veterans is aging on average, and on top of that the PACT Act has allowed us to enroll even more veterans into our system.”

The PACT Act was signed into law in 2022. It expanded VA health care and benefits to Veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances, both domestically and overseas.

“After the first year of the Pact Act, we have so far screened 4.6 million veterans currently enrolled in VA healthcare for toxic exposures, which is a critical step to catching and treating potentially life-threatening health conditions associated with toxic substance exposure,” Elnahal said.

Dr. Elnahal also says mental health appointments and telehealth services grew, as did critical staffing.

“I want to say word about how we've been able to deliver more care than ever and that is because we've hired more people than we ever have we set an all time external hiring record last fiscal year of hiring more than 61,000 people from the outside and we grew our workforce by 7.4%,” Elnahal said.

The Veterans Crisis Line received over a million calls, texts and chats this fiscal year, providing no-cost emergency care to tens of thousands of Veterans at risk for suicide. The VA also housed more than 40,000 homeless Veterans last year, with even more expected to be providing housing by the end of this year.

2023 Climbing Advocacy Conference

The Access Fund is inviting local nonprofits and all rock climbing enthusiasts to the 2023 Climbing Advocacy Conference at The Record in Bentonville this Friday and Saturday. The conference will include informational breakout sessions from national experts on protecting access to local climbing areas or crags. Access Fund National acquisitions director Brian Tickle says the conference is worth the trip for anyone who operates in the rock climbing industry.

“Any local climbing organization anywhere in the country really is encouraged to come" Tickle said. "You can, even though it's regionally kind of far away for somebody from New York maybe to come to Arkansas, there's always similarities and client projects and there's a lot of benefit to just having some cross-pollination for local climbing organizations.”

Tickle says the breakout sessions will use Springdale’s recently developed Fitzgerald Mountain as an example of what urban, outdoor climbing crags can become under the right protections.

“That project in particular is emblematic of a lot of other projects in Arkansas," Tickle said. "And I think it also just makes sense to host in this region if for no other reason, just because we've never hosted an advocacy conference in Arkansas. So it's just kind of a new take on our geographic location for the conference. Yes, it's also a good opportunity to take a crag that's urban and is in an area that has a lot of emphasis on human powered recreation.”

For more information and registration, visit their website.

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Jacqueline Froelich is an investigative reporter and news producer for <i>Ozarks at Large.</i>
Kyle Kellams is KUAF's news director and host of Ozarks at Large.
Jack Travis is a reporter for Ozarks at Large.
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