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Tribal Health hires veterans advocate to assist vets signing up for VA health care benefits

By B.L. Azure

Nick White, 36, was recently hired at Tribal Health and Human Services as the Veterans Health Care Representative. Nick will assist American Indian veterans sign up for Department of Veterans Affairs health benefits. (B.L. Azure photo) Nick White, 36, was recently hired at Tribal Health and Human Services as the Veterans Health Care Representative. Nick will assist American Indian veterans sign up for Department of Veterans Affairs health benefits. (B.L. Azure photo)

ST. IGNATIUS — The recently created and filled position of Veterans Health Care Representative is another cog in the health care delivery machine that the Tribal Health and Human Services Department is fine tuning to make health care more accessible to more people as well as to recoup funds expended for treating veterans at its clinics.

Nick White, 36, came aboard Tribal Health January 20, and has gotten a bit of rubber meets the road experience since. White, the son of Tony and Debbie Adams, was born and raised on the Flathead Indian Reservation. He attended public school in Ronan and received a GED diploma from Salish Kootenai College. He then enrolled at SKC where he earned a bachelors degree Human Services in 1999.

“It is my primary goal to increase local awareness of veteran related issues and develop strategies for increasing local veterans and their family’s participation in existing VA benefits programs for eligible veterans, and eligible family members,” White said. “l assist veterans and family members in completing and submitting all required applications and documentation.”

Military veterans are eligible for numerous earned benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for their service to America and its citizens. Though the years Tribal Health has been treating Indian military veterans at its clinics without charge to the individual veteran. That will now change with a memorandum of agreement between the VA and the Indian Health Service that allows for compensation for health care services delivered at tribal, urban and Indian Health Service health care facilities.

“We can now properly administer our health care services that Indian veterans utilize at our clinics. The agreement with the VA is significant solution that the Tribes can benefit from,” said THHS Director Kevin Howlett. “Heretofore we’ve provided health care services for veterans in our clinics without receiving any compensation. The Affordable Care Act and the renewal of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act provide that IHS, tribal and urban Indian health care centers are eligible to receive reimbursement from the VA for the services provided to Indian veterans.”

Following graduation from SKC White worked in various places, including Mission Mountain Enterprises in Ronan and Polson, Shodair Children’s Hospital in Helena and Opportunity Resources in Missoula. He also worked at Dyno Mart in Ronan, and Joe’s Jiffy Stop and Quicksilver in Pablo. While there White returned to SKC and received an Associate of Arts Child Development degree. White then went to work for Early Childhood Services (Head Start) for nearly seven years before becoming a residential counselor at Kicking Horse Job Corps.

“I have always been a part of the community, very active. This position requires that and I am happy to be here,” White said. “I have a huge extended family, on my mother’s side is the Ashley and Pablo families. On my dad’s side is the Adams and Paul family.”

White said his familiarity with the Flathead Indian Reservation and knowledge of the Indian families and where they live has been very helpful in his reach out effort. Once contact is made White then assists the veterans fill out required the VA application and other required VA forms.

“I know the lay of the land that helps me track down all of our veterans so I can help them sign up with (the Department of) Veterans Affairs for the health benefits they’ve earned for their service. I have heard a lot of incredible stories from the veterans that I have interviewed,” White said, adding that he has been sending out letters of introduction to veterans that Tribal Health has addresses for. There are also posters and flyers located at the Tribal Health clinics, and word of mouth. He has gotten a lot of responses from them. “I am trying to reach out to the veterans in as many ways as I can. I make sure they get signed up for the VA. I help them through the whole process. We can do everything on the computer, it’s fast, a lot faster then paperwork through the mail.”

Howlett said it is critical that veterans sign up with White and the VA. “In order for us to receive reimbursement Indian veterans have to register for VA health care,” he said. “They will be put in our database once they sign up with the VA. We conservatively anticipate that the services we provide veterans will generate in excess of $1 million a year. I encourage veterans to contact Nick for details and more information about this. He will guide them through the application process.”

White said veterans can come to visit with him at his office, or he can come to their homes, or meet them in a convenient location.

“I have great respect for our tribal veterans and their families. I look forward to meeting them and assisting them with veterans health care,” White said. “I will meet people wherever they want to, wherever they feel comfortable. We want to make health care affordable for them and their families.”

White said veterans can come to visit with him at his office, or he can come to their homes, or meet them in a convenient location.

“Everything is going great,” White said. “I am glad I am here, glad I am able to assist local veterans and their families as much as possible.”

White is located in THHS administration offices in St. Ignatius in the Neil Charlo Building behind the THHS St. Ignatius Clinic.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment, contact Veterans Health Care Representative Nick White at 745-3525, ext. 5042, or 675-2700, ext. 5042.

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