WASHINGTON, DC — The National Indian Health Board (NIHB) applauded Congress for passing several significant bills – Native American Veterans PACT Act, the Veterans Affairs Tribal Advisory Committee Act and the PRC for Native Veterans Act – that impact the delivery, access and coordination of healthcare for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) veterans who receive care from both the Indian Health Service (IHS) and Veterans Administration (VA). 

“As a Native veteran who uses healthcare services at both the Indian Health Service and VA, I am happy to see Congress take action on bills that make it a little easier for our veterans to get care and upholds the federal government’s responsibility to watch out for the brave men and women who protected our freedoms,” said NIHB Acting Chairman William “Bill” Smith who is a Vietnam Veteran. “American Indian and Alaska Native veterans deserve to go to the clinic and get care without worrying about payments. Our Tribal leaders and advocates should be included when the VA makes policy decisions. These bills ensure that Native veterans are covered, and our care is coordinated.” 

The Native American Veterans PACT Act eliminates copayments for AI/AN veterans accessing VA healthcare and removes a significant barrier for Native veteran’s care. The PACT Act also brings parity between those AI/AN veterans receiving services at VA and those who receive services through the IHS and Medicaid. Currently, AI/AN veterans must pay a copayment before receiving services at the VA. In the fiscal year 2017, approximately 30 percent of AI/AN veterans were charged copayments, averaging approximately $281.56 per veteran. 

The Veterans Affairs Tribal Advisory Committee Act of 2019 establishes a VA Tribal Advisory Committee (VATAC) that provides a discussion forum to gain useful feedback from Indian Country issues and solutions within the VA and advises the Secretary on improving policy, programs and services for AI/AN veterans. 

“Tribal leaders, Native veterans and even the Government Accountability Office have expressed that the VA needs to engage with Tribal stakeholders to get a better understanding of how our veterans receive their care. Creating the VA Tribal Advisory Committee builds a stronger relationship between the VA and Tribal nations and helps increase awareness and understanding of the unique issues affecting American Indian and Alaska Native veterans who use the VA for care,” said NIHB CEO Stacy A. Bohlen. 

The PRC for Native Veterans Act amends the Indian Health Care Improvement Act (IHCIA) to clarify that the VA and the Department of Defense are required to reimburse the IHS and Tribally-run health programs for healthcare services provided to AI/AN veterans through an authorized referral. Before the bill, the VA did not reimburse IHS or Tribally-run programs for the cost of services provided by the Purchased Referred Care (PRC) program. IHS is codified under federal law as the payer of last resort. 

To learn more about NIHB’s advocacy on AI/AN veteran’s health, visit www.nihb.org.

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