Indian Affairs Committee Advances Two Key Tester Bills to Senate Floor

Bipartisan bills to expand health care access for Urban Native veterans & improve public safety in Indian Country

(U.S. Senate) – The Senate Indian Affairs Committee passed two bipartisan bills today backed by U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) to expand health care access for Native American veterans and provide more resources for Tribal law enforcement agencies across Montana.

Tester worked with Republicans and Democrats to advance the Health Care Access for Urban Native Veterans Act of 2019 and the Bridging Agency Data Gaps and Ensuring Safety (BADGES) for Native Communities Act out of committee and to the Senate floor.

“Native Americans serve in our military at the highest rates, but often face unique barriers when they return home from service,” said Tester. “These bills provide Native American veterans in Montana with the care they earned, and help clear roadblocks to safe, healthy communities by streamlining the process for hiring new Tribal officers. I urge Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring these desperately-needed bills to the Senate floor for a vote, because sitting on our hands isn’t an option when it comes to serving our Tribal communities.”

Currently, federal law allows the Department of Veterans Affairs (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 Organizations 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 at urban Indian health centers while simultaneously relieving some of the patient burden on VA.

Native communities are currently suffering from law enforcement shortages due in part to lengthy background check processes for prospective Tribal officers. Tester’s BADGES Act would give the Bureau of Indian Affairs authority to conduct its own background checks on applicants, streamlining the hiring process. The bill would also improve federal information sharing, create a Tribal Liaison position, establish grants for Tribes and states to address the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) crisis, and require the Department of Justice to provide more information about law enforcement staffing and resources across Indian Country.

More information on Tester’s work to combat the MMIW crisis is available HERE.