VA adopts Tester’s model to improve Indian veterans’ health care

Department signs agreement with IHS to increase access to care, services

(HAMILTON, Mont.) – The Department of Veterans Affairs is implementing a model put forward by Senator Jon Tester to provide better health care to Native American veterans.

The VA this week signed an agreement with the Indian Health Service (IHS) where the department will reimburse tribal health providers for direct health care services provided to Native American veterans.

For years, the VA and the IHS failed to work together to deliver needed care, leaving many Indian veterans without access to quality health services. But earlier this year Tester pushed the VA and IHS to sign an agreement on the Blackfeet Reservation that improves health care for Blackfeet veterans in Montana. If implemented properly, the new agreement will resolve the long-standing problem of the VA and the IHS each directing Native American veterans to seek care at the other’s facility rather than simply treating the veteran.

“Too many Native American veterans struggle to overcome bureaucratic hurdles and rural isolation to get the quality health care they earned,” said Tester. “I’m pleased the VA and the Indian Health Service reached an agreement to improve veterans’ access to care and save money while ensuring that we honor our promises to Native American veterans in Montana and nationwide.”

After joining the Senate in 2007, Native American veterans told Tester that the VA and IHS often failed to provide care to Indian veterans due to disagreements about cost. At a hearing called by Tester to draw attention to the problem, Tester encouraged the agencies to work together, resulting in the successful Blackfeet agreement.

Montana is expected to be one of the first states where the VA will reimburse the IHS for Native veterans’ care. There are more than 5,000 Native American veterans in Montana.

Tester, Montana’s only member of both the Senate Veterans’ and Indian Affairs Committees, also recently improved Native veterans’ access to care by improving the transportation service that many veterans rely on.

A copy of the new agreement between the VA and IHS is available online HERE.