Haaland Bill to Improve Health Care Access for Native American Veterans Passes House, Moves to Senate

December 3, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. - Today, a bill Congresswoman Deb Haaland (NM-01) co-led to improve health care access for Native American veterans passed the House floor and now moves to the Senate. The Health Care Access for Urban Native Veterans Act, introduced by U.S. Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), would provide the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) explicit authority to reimburse coverage for care that Native American veterans already receive at Urban Indian Organizations (UIOs). This legislation would help Native American veterans acquire culturally competent care, while at the same time relieving the burden on the VA system. 

“All our veterans deserve the best care that our country can give, but there are severe gaps in service for Native veterans who live in urban areas. My mom, who is a Navy veteran, relies on health care from the VA, and I know how important it is for her to receive care that is culturally appropriate. This legislation will give the VA a wider range of options for delivering the health services that our Native American veterans need while ensuring they’re eligible for reimbursements from the VA,” said Congresswoman Deb Haaland, Member of the House Armed Services Committee and Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus.

The Indian Health Care System is made up of the Indian Health Service (IHS) direct health care services administered through a system of 12 Area offices and 170 IHS and tribally managed service units. Tribally operated health care service facilities are also part of the Indian Health Care System that provide Tribes with the option of assuming control and management of programs previously administered by the Federal government in furtherance of self-determination. Additionally, Urban Indian health care service centers are operated through IHS contracts and grants between the 41 Urban Indian Organizations (UIOs) to provide health care and referral services for Urban Indians across the country. Currently, Federal law allows the VA to reimburse both IHS direct health care services and Tribally-operated health care services for Native American veterans at their facilities. 

The law does not, however, allow the VA to reimburse any of the 41 UIOs who provide health services for Native veterans. The Health Care Access for Urban Native Veterans Act will correct the exclusion of UIOs from being reimbursed for services that they already provide and allow Native American veterans to have access to the timely, culturally competent care they deserve.

Haaland also secured an expansion of Telehealth for Veterans in the Fiscal Year 2021 Appropriations bill that passed the House in July. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is leading the way in telehealth innovation to make sure Veterans can access care when and where they need it. However, there is still a need to grow this program to reach veterans with limited mobility, those who live in rural areas, or do not have access to resources like transportation. As a result, $1,329,566,000 was granted for telehealth and connected care, which includes home telehealth, home telehealth prosthetics, and clinic-based telehealth. Additionally, the CARES Act allocated $250,000,000 for telehealth expansion to the VA, which is still largely inoperable at health care facilities on Tribal lands due to lack of internet coverage in the growing digital divide.  

Native Americans serve in the United States Armed Services at a higher rate than any other group of people. It is currently estimated that 150,000 veterans identify as American Indian or Alaska Native alone. Haaland grew up in a military family and continues to work to ensure the country lives up to its promises to our veterans. Haaland serves on the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), where she’s focused on serving our servicemembers and their families through her role on the HASC Subcommittee on Military Personnel.