Haaland, Gallagher Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Support Native American, Alaska Native Veterans

May 16, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Representatives Deb Haaland (NM-01) and Mike Gallagher (WI-08) introduced a bipartisan bill to support Native American and Alaska Indian veterans. The VA Tribal Advisory Committee Act of 2019 would improve VA outreach, health care, and benefits for Native American veterans through the establishment of a VA Advisory Committee on Tribal and Indian Affairs.

Native American and Alaska Native service members face unique challenges when accessing VA services and experience homelessness and health disparities at higher rates than other veterans.

“All our veterans deserve the best care that our country can give, but there are gaps in service for Native veterans,” said Congresswoman Deb Haaland. “The advisory committee established by this bill will ensure that we’re looking at the specific barriers Native veterans face, so that they have access to the same care that other veterans have access to.”

“Congress has a duty to ensure that all veterans have access to the benefits they earned,” said Rep. Gallagher. “For years Native American veterans have faced unique challenges upon returning home from service, and I’m proud to join Rep. Haaland in introducing legislation that will improve communication and collaboration between tribes and the VA to help eliminate these disparities.”

The VA Tribal Advisory Committee Act aims to eliminate health disparities for Native American veterans by establishing a 15-member Committee comprised of a representative from each of the 12 regions of the Indian Health Service (IHS) and three at-large Native American members. The committee will:

  • facilitate consultation between the Department of Veterans Affairs and tribal governments/organizations;
  • advise the VA Secretary on ways the Department can improve programs and services to better serve Native American veterans;
  • provide a forum for tribes and tribal organizations to discuss proposals for changes to Department regulations, policies, and procedures; and
  • ensure pressing issues are brought to the attention of tribal organizations early so tribes can share feedback.

The U.S. Senate companion bill was introduced by U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).  

The VA Tribal Advisory Committee Act of 2019 is endorsed by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the National Indian Health Board.

“Our Native communities have always held our veterans in the highest esteem,” said Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians and retired U.S. Army Officer. “Too often our American Indian and Alaska Native veterans have difficulty accessing the benefits they earned through their military service. NCAI supports the introduction of the VA Tribal Advisory Committee Act by Congresswoman Haaland and Congressman Gallagher. This legislation is a positive step in addressing the unique barriers that Native veterans face in securing fair and dignified services through the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

"The National Indian Health Board is pleased to see legislation introduced to help honor the government-to-government relationship between Tribes and the Department of Veterans Affairs," said Andrew Joseph Jr., NIHB Board Member and U.S. Army veteran. "The Tribal Advisory Committee Act is an important first step in facilitating meaningful consultation between the Tribes and the VA. This will help fulfill the federal government's obligation to provide health care to those who have earned our highest respect with their sacrifice - Native Veterans. NIHB looks forward to working with the bill's sponsors as it moves through Congress." 

 
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