American Indian veterans get VAs ear

Matt Saintsing
July 25, 2018 - 2:52 pm

Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Anita Newman

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American Indians who served in the military are finally getting a seat at the table.

Three senators are introducing a bill to create an American Indian advisory board to the VA, addressing the unique struggles they endure. American Indians have higher rates of being uninsured, and are significanly more likely to delay health care due to untimely VA appointments.

And yet Native American Indians serve at a much higher rate per capita than any other ethnic group in the U.S.  In fact, 27 have been awarded the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military medal. 

The bipartisan VA Tribal Advisory Committee Act would create a 15 member advisory committee—representing each of the 12 regions of the Bureau of Indian Affairs— on Tribal and American Indian issues. It would include at least four veterans. 

“Veterans hold a place of honor in Native communities,” said Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians. “Too often our Native veterans do not benefit from the programs and resources they earned through their service to this country.” 

“Native Americans have signed up to serve our country at a historically high rate and the VA must do more to make sure they have access to the health care and benefits they earned,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.  “Our bipartisan bill will make sure that Native American veterans have a seat at the table as the VA comes up with important solutions to connect Indian Country with VA services.”

The committee would serve as a communication line between VA and tribal entities, and would include face-to-face meetings with the VA secretary to provide much-needed leadership on affairs impacting American Indian communities. 

“Alaska has more veterans per capita than any state in the country, and Alaska Native veterans serve at higher rates in the U.S. military than any other ethnic group,” added Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska). “This special kind of patriotism is unique, as are the health care and access challenges impacting these veterans across Alaska and the United States.”

Probably the best known American Indians who have served in the military are the Native American Code Talkers who were instrumental in sending critical information on and off the battlefield during World War II, but they’ve been serving in American uniforms since the Revolutionary Law. 

Congress would receive recommendations on how to improve VA access and care to American Indian veterans, in an effort to expand VA outreach and benefits, if this bill becomes law. 

“Too many of these courageous men and women aren’t able to access the services they have earned,” added Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee,” also adding that the advisory committee, “will improve the department’s government-government relationship with tribes.” 

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