WASHINGTON, D.C. ― U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) joined Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) this week to introduce bipartisan legislation to improve VA outreach, health care and benefits for Native American veterans through establishment of a VA Advisory Committee on Tribal and Indian Affairs.
The Advisory Committee will facilitate communication and understanding between the VA and Tribal governments to better address the unique barriers Native American veterans face when accessing the VA.
“Native veterans, including many in New Mexico, put their lives on the line for our country — but too many of these courageous men and women aren’t able to access the services they have earned,” said Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “The bipartisan VA Advisory Committee on Tribal and Indian Affairs will improve the department’s government-to-government relationship with tribes, and it will generate solutions that make VA programs work for Native veterans across Indian Country.”
“Native Americans have signed up to serve our country at a historically high rate and the VA must do more to make sure they have access to the health care and benefits they earned,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Our bipartisan bill will make sure that Native American veterans have a seat at the table as the VA comes up with important solutions to connect Indian Country with VA services.”
“Alaska has more veterans per capita than any state in the country, and Alaska Native veterans serve at higher rates in the U.S. military than any other ethnic group – bravely answering the call to serve, even during the darker times in our nation’s history when many were discriminated against and denied basic rights,” Sullivan said. “This special kind of patriotism is unique, as are the health care and access challenges impacting these veterans across Alaska and the United States. I am pleased to have worked with my colleagues on this bipartisan legislation which seeks to amplify the voices of these communities within the VA and ensure that they are heard.”
The bill has received support from Tribes and Tribal organizations, including the Navajo Nation and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).
“We, at the Navajo Nation, are proud of our veterans who have served this country honorably for generations. I applaud the introduction of the VA Tribal Advisory Committee Act, a bipartisan bill that would create a Native American Veterans Advisory Council. This bill is a step forward for tribes to have a larger voice in advising the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to help our Native American veterans,” Russell Begaye, President of the Navajo Nation said.
“Veterans hold a place of honor in Native communities,” said Jefferson Keel, NCAI President and retired U.S. Army Officer. “Too often our Native Veterans do not benefit from the programs and resources they earned through their service to this country. The Department of Veterans Affairs Tribal Advisory Committee Act would ensure federal policy makers are considering and working to address the unique challenges that make accessing programs difficult for Veterans in our communities.”
The senators’ VA Tribal Advisory Committee Act will establish a 15 member Committee representing each of the 12 regions of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, including three at-large Native American members and at least four veterans.
The Advisory Committee will facilitate communication between the VA and Tribal governments, meet face-to-face with the VA Secretary to provide guidance on Tribal and Indian Affairs, and report to Congress its recommendations for legislation to improve Native American veterans’ access to VA care and benefits.