Key Tester Bills Supporting Native American Veterans Signed Into Law
Ranking Member secured two bills in end-of-year veterans’ package eliminating copayments for Native American veterans accessing health care at VA and establishing an Advisory Committee on Tribal and Indian Affairs
(U.S. Senate) – Two bills authored by U.S. Senator Jon Tester providing critical support to Native American veterans have been signed into law.
Tester sent both his Native American Veteran Parity in Access to Care Today (PACT) Act and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Tribal Advisory Committee Act to the President’s desk last month as a part of an end-of-year package to better address the needs of Native veterans nationwide.
“This is a groundbreaking moment for Native American veterans in Montana and across the country who will now have greater access to health care and representation at the VA,” said Tester. “Native Americans serve our nation at the highest rates, and I couldn’t be prouder to have championed both laws that successfully eliminate costly copayments for those receiving health care services at VA and provide a stronger voice in crafting solutions that work best for all veterans living in Indian Country.”
As the only member of the Montana delegation to serve on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Tester has been a longtime champion for improving services and access to care for Native veterans at the VA. Tester’s Native American Veteran (PACT) Act successfully eliminates copayments for Native American veterans accessing VA health care, bringing parity between services provided at VA and at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Indian Health Service (IHS). The Department of Veterans Affairs Tribal Advisory Committee Act establishes an Advisory Committee to advise the VA Secretary on matters relating to Indian tribes, tribal organizations, and Native American veterans.
“That National Indian Health Board is committed to ensuring the highest health status and outcomes for American Indian and Alaska Native Veterans, and the Native American Veteran Parity in Access to Care Today (PACT) Act would allow Native Veterans to receive care from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) without a copayment,” said Stacy A. Bohlen, CEO of the National Indian Health Board (NIHB). “The PACT Act moves us closer to fulfillment of the federal government’s dual responsibility to Native Veterans. NIHB commends Senator Tester and Senator Moran for leading this bill, and stands ready to work with Congress in a bipartisan manner to enact legislation that strengthens the government-to-government relationship, improves coordinated care between the Indian Health Service and VHA, and ultimately elevates healthcare access for all Native veterans across Indian Country.”
“The federal government’s responsibility to provide quality healthcare to American Indian and Alaska Native veterans comes both from their service to this country and the federal government’s treaty and trust obligations to American Indian and Alaska Native people. Currently, American Indian and Alaska Native veterans are required to pay a copayment before receiving services at the Veterans Health Administration, representing a significant barrier to care,” said Fawn Sharp, President of the National Congress of American Indians. “The Native American Veteran Parity in Access to Care Today Act improves accessibility to Veterans Health Administration services by eliminating copayments for our American Indian and Alaska Native veterans.”
“Historically the Department of Veterans Affairs was a one-size-fits-all agency, an approach that all but ignored American Indian and Alaska Native veterans who could not access their earned VA healthcare benefits. However, within the last decade, the Department has made progress in improving their access to services,” said Kevin J. Allis, CEO of the National Congress of American Indians. “Establishing a Tribal Advisory Committee within the VA will take this progress to the next level by increasing awareness and understanding across the VA about the unique issues affecting American Indian and Alaska Native veterans across tribal communities. This awareness, paired with direct interaction with tribal leaders who regularly hear from American Indian and Alaska Native veteran constituents, will ultimately produce faster solutions and better services for American Indian and Alaska Native veterans.”
“The National Indian Health Board strongly supports the Department of Veterans Affairs Tribal Advisory Committee Act. Establishing a TAC to the Secretary of the VA would provide Tribal leaders and Native Veterans a permanent platform to advise the Secretary on ways to improve programs and services to better serve Native Veterans. Our Native Veterans deserve quality healthcare for their courageous service, and this is an opportunity for the U.S. government to honor its responsibility to Native Veterans as Tribal citizens and Servicemen and women,” said NIHB Acting Chairman Chief Bill Smith of the Valdez Tribe and Vietnam Veteran.
Tester secured 10 additional provisions in the end-of-year veterans’ package, including legislation providing women veterans with greater access to critical care and services, removing barriers to VA funding for organizations in need of critical upgrades to keep homeless veterans safe from the coronavirus, increasing veterans’ access to timely health care through improved scheduling, and streamlining veterans’ access to earned disability benefits online.
Full text of the end-of-year veterans’ package is available HERE.