Tester Continues Push to Improve Health Care Access for Montana’s Native American Veterans

Senator helps lead bipartisan, bicameral effort to expand health care access for urban Native veterans covered by Department of Veterans Affairs

(U.S. Senate) – As Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and a senior member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, U.S. Senator Jon Tester is pushing to improve health care access for Native American veterans in Montana and across the country. 

Tester supported a recent bipartisan, bicameral push to expand health care for Native American veterans through the Health Care Access for Urban Native Veterans Act, legislation that would provide Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) coverage for services provided to these veterans at urban Indian health centers. 

"Native Americans serve our nation in uniform at the highest rates, but too often these veterans face barriers when it comes to receiving the care and benefits they’ve earned,” said Tester. "Our bipartisan bill provides Native American veterans in Montana with the health care and services they need after returning home from military service. It also expands Native American veterans’ access to care by streamlining reimbursements to clinics that provide essential services to these men and women in uniform.”

Currently, federal law allows VA to reimburse federally-operated and Tribally-operated Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities for services they provide to Native American veterans. However, the law does not allow urban Indian health centers to participate in the same service reimbursement agreements. This exclusion limits the ability of these urban facilities to maintain and expand services sought by Native American veterans and patients. 

The Health Care Access for Urban Native Veterans Act would correct this exclusion, allowing Native American veterans to receive quality care while simultaneously relieving financial burdens on VA. 

As of 2018, VA had partnered with 188 federally-operated and Tribally-operated IHS facilities to provide direct care and reimbursement for services ranging from primary care to behavioral health. These agreements have resulted in improved access to care for more than 9,300 Native American veterans.

The bill is supported by the National Congress of American Indians, National Council of Urban Indian Health, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American, and VoteVets.

Tester has consistently led the effort to better address the unique barriers Native American veterans face when accessing VA services. He introduced the bipartisan VA Tribal Advisory Committee Act, which would establish a VA Advisory Committee on Tribal and Indian Affairs to facilitate communication and understanding between VA and Tribal governments, improving services for Native American veterans, Indian tribes, and tribal organizations. 

Full text of the bill can be read online HERE.