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VA Secretary Shinseki learns of Alaska veterans' challenges

The nation's top official for veterans affairs told reporters in Anchorage on Memorial Day that his agency can and must do a better job of reaching military veterans.

Eric Shinseki, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, is in Alaska for several days at the invitation of U.S. Sen. Mark Begich. He spoke to a crowd of hundreds Monday at Fort Richardson National Cemetery.

During his time here, he's meeting with veterans in Anchorage. And he's traveling with Begich, a Democrat from Anchorage who is on both the Armed Services and Veterans Affairs committees, to Bethel and the village of Kwigillingok.

Shinseki noted that Alaska has the highest concentration of veterans in the country, with 17 percent of the state population identified as such. Some 77,000 veterans live in Alaska.

Shinseki is a retired Army general who served as Army chief of staff from 1999 to June 2003. He clashed with then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during the planning of the war in Iraq over how many troops were needed, calling for several hundred thousand soldiers during postwar occupation, many more than Rumsfeld wanted. Some military leaders have said since then that Shinseki was right.

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