Series of U.S. House votes aim to help Native American veterans

By Chris Jennings

A trio of House votes in November could have an enormous impact on Native veterans, as well as other veterans across the country.

The first bill, the Proper and Reimbursed Care for Native Veterans Act (H.R. 6237), will clarify the requirement of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense to reimburse the Indian Health Service for certain health care services.

These services are currently only reimbursed when VA services are provided at a VA facility.

H.R. 6237, introduced by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), clarifies that the VHA is responsible for reimbursing not only direct care to Native veterans provided by a tribe or IHS but specialty and contract care provided through a tribe or IHS.

“Our nation’s Native American veterans deserve access to quality, affordable health care and this bill helps deliver on that promise,” Mullin said.

H.R. 6237 will serve to help the already underfunded IHS and tribal-run health facilities. These facilities are often the only realistic option for Native veterans with VA options, sometimes a day or more away.

Mullin followed up, saying, “I am glad this bill passed the House and I urge the Senate to act quickly so our Native veterans get the care they need.”

Talking about the bill, Chief Gary Batton said, “We appreciate Congressman Mullin’s leadership to get this bill passed by the House, which will greatly assist us in delivering high-quality health care to our Native Veterans.”

With the long history of Choctaws serving in the military, defending this land for centuries, the care of its veterans is essential.

“This bill would clarify that the VA must reimburse IHS and tribal health systems who are serving veterans, even when they are referred out for specialty care. By passing this bill out of the House, we are one step closer to reducing the red tape that our veterans currently endure by allowing our native veterans the ability to continue to choose us as their health care system, even if they need specialty services,” said Batton.

Two other bills passed the House on Nov. 16, which could improve Native and non-Native veterans’ quality of life.

The Wounded Veterans Recreation Act (S. 327), sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., to provide a lifetime National Recreational Pass to federal lands for all veterans who have disabilities stemming from their military service. A supporter, Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., said providing free passes would both recognize the sacrifices of disabled veterans and give them access to “the healing and restorative powers of our public lands.”

The House also has passed the Improving Safety and Security for Veterans Act (S. 3147), sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to require the Veterans Affairs Department to submit to Congress reports on patient safety and the quality of care at the agency’s medical centers.