Tester announces hearing to improve health care for Indian veterans

Two Montanans scheduled to testify during November 5 hearing

(BIG SANDY, Mont.) – At the request of Senator Jon Tester, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a hearing next week to address better health care for American Indian veterans.

Those testifying at the November 5 hearing will include Kevin Howlett, Director of Tribal Health for Montana’s Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and Buck Richardson, Minority Program Coordinator at Ft. Harrison.

Tester—a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee—requested the hearing last month.

Thursday’s hearing will focus on progress between the Veterans Administration (VA) and the Indian Health Service in delivering quality health care to Indian veterans.   In particular, Tester and his colleagues will examine the challenge of making health care in rural areas like Montana more accessible and the VA’s need to overcome cultural barriers to serve veterans in Indian Country.

“With this hearing, we’ll be able to dig deep into the challenges facing Montana’s Indian veterans and how we can better get them the care they’ve earned,” said Tester, who also serves on the Indian Affairs Committee.  “New veterans come home to Montana every day, and it’s never been more important for these different agencies to be talking and working together effectively.  The men and women who put their lives on the line for our nation deserve nothing less.”

There are currently about 4,600 Native American veterans enrolled in the VA in Montana.  The actual number of Indian veterans in the state, however, is believed to be much higher.

Tester is the author of the Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act, which contains several sections aimed at addressing concerns in Native American veterans’ health care.  The bill would also improve mental health services, provide grants for innovative programs that improve health care for rural veterans and lock in the VA’s current 41.5-cents per mile travel reimbursement for disabled veterans.

Tester’s bill, which would improve care for the more than 100,000 veterans living in Montana, has cleared the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and is awaiting a vote by the full Senate.