Char-Koosta News

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Tribal Health Veterans Health Care Coordinator signs up most vets in latest Montana VA statistics

By B.L. Azure

Nick White, Tribal Health Veterans Health Care Coordinator  Nick White, Tribal Health Veterans Health Care Coordinator

ST. IGNATIUS — The Tribal Health and Human Services Department walks the talk when it comes to providing health care options and assistance to American Indian veterans. In late-January 36-year-old Nick White was hired as the Tribal Heath Veterans Health Care Coordinator to assist tribal veterans slog through a bureaucratic minefield — it’s not a cake walk — at the Department of Veterans Affairs Montana Health Care System.

“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 health care benefits programs for eligible veterans, and eligible family members,” White said in an interview shortly after being hired. “I assist veterans and family members in completing and submitting all required applications and documentation.”

The local veterans outreach effort has been paying off. In June, a VA Access Audit report, among other things, gauged the time it takes to get appointments after signing up for VA health care.

The audit showed that White’s outreach effort has been paying off. The Flathead Reservation had the most VA health care system registrations in Montana. So far this year White has enrolled 25 of the 122 veterans in the VA Montana Health Care System.

“Veterans can come to me or I can meet them wherever and whenever they want,” White said. “Some veterans lack adequate transportation or have other problems that make it hard for them to travel to Mission. So I go to them and they appreciate that.”

Veteran Kenny McClure said White has been of great assistance to him in signing for the VA health care benefits he earned serving American 1966 through 1969.

Military veterans are eligible for numerous earned benefits from the 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 has changed with a memorandum of agreement between the VA and the Indian Health Service that allows for compensation for health care services delivered at tribal (CSKT Tribal Health), urban and Indian Health Service health care facilities.

The Tribal Health and Human Services Department recently completed the MOA with the VA Montana Health Care System and now can be reimbursed by the VA for health care services it provides to eligible tribal veterans.

“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.”

Assisting veterans enroll in the VA Montana Health Care System is the focus of White because it is the first — and very vital — step needed in order for Tribal Health to be compensated.

A Brigham Young University research project funded by the Denver Region VA office found that the overwhelming majority of tribal veterans on the Flathead Reservation eligible for VA health care services received health care from Tribal Health. Convenience of location and negative perceptions of the VA were often cited as reasons for using Tribal Health.

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 is ready to serve those who have served the United States.

“I’d like the Indian veterans to know that they have an advocate that can help them get the VA health care benefits they’ve earned in service to America,” White said. “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 than paperwork through the mail.”

White would like to note that he is not the Tribal Veterans Service Representative. Lloyd Jackson is the Flathead Reservation VSR with an office in CSKT Headquarters building in Pablo — Tribal Health funds that part-time position.

White is currently located in THHS administration offices at St. Ignatius in the Neil Charlo Building behind the THHS St. Ignatius Clinic. He will relocate to the new clinic in the Patient Registration area later this month.

For more information contact, Tribal Health and Human Services Department’s Veterans Health Care Coordinator Nick White at 745-3525, ext. 5042, or (cell) 274-5703.

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