Tester Pushes VA to Better Serve Montana’s Native Veterans at Indian Affairs Committee Hearing

Senator questions VA Secretary and Fort Peck Executive on efforts to meet the unique needs of Native veterans

At a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing, U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) questioned representatives from Montana Tribes and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on their efforts to address the unique needs of Native American veterans.

While Native American veterans serve in the military at a higher rate than any other ethnic demographic in the United States, they often face obstacles when seeking housing, employment, and quality health care. During the hearing, Tester questioned Jestin Dupree, a member of the Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board in Montana and Army veteran, on the challenges Native American veterans face when accessing services provided by VA.

“Do you feel like there is an avenue in Indian country to give information back to VA if they’re not meeting the needs of your veterans in your specific reservations?” Tester asked Dupree. “Is there an avenue to give input back?”

“In terms of effective communication with VA, we have your office in Montana that we do effectively communicate quite often with,” replied Dupree. “But in terms of VA, I’m not tracking any person that really comes out.”

During the hearing, Tester stressed the importance of establishing mobile health clinics to serve tribal communities in remote areas across Montana. He also pressed VA Secretary Wilkie over the Department’s efforts to improve mental health, expand telehealth, and increase outreach for Native American veterans, Tribes, and tribal organizations.

As a member and former chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Tester has been working to expand communication between VA and Tribes. He introduced the 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, Tribes, and tribal organizations.

Tester has also been a longtime supporter of efforts to boost access to safe, affordable housing and increase homeownership in Indian Country. He introduced the Tribal HUD-VASH Act this Congress, which passed the Senate in February, to formally codify Tribal HUD-VASH, providing rental and housing assistance to homeless and at-risk homeless veterans in Indian Country.

Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs debated, and passed, the Senator’s Savanna’s Act and Not Invisible Act to bolster data collection and law enforcement responses to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women cases, and improve collaboration between Tribes, law enforcement, and the federal government. These bills now move be considered by the full Senate.

Watch Tester’s Q&A HERE.