U.S. Sen. Tom Udall
U.S. SENATE News:
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Wednesday applauded the unanimous House vote to pass two bills he cosponsored to uphold federal treaty obligations to Native veterans, the Native American Veteran Parity in Access to Care Today (PACT) Act and the VA Tribal Advisory Committee Act.
The legislation now moves to the president’s desk to be signed into law.
Native Americans serve in the United States military at five times the national average, representing the highest number of service members per capita for any ethnic group. Currently, more than 150,000 Native veterans have earned benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare across the United States.
The PACT Act, which Udall cosponsored with Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), recognizes the federal government’s trust and treaty responsibilities to provide health care to Native Americans and eliminates copayments for Native American veterans receiving VA healthcare. Tribal leaders have testified before the Committee on Indian Affairs that these VA copayments can cause great financial hardship for Native veterans, forcing some to choose between VA care or paying their utility bills.
The VA Tribal Advisory Committee Act establishes a VA Tribal Advisory Committee to improve communication between VA, Native veterans, and Tribal governments and help address the unique obstacles Native American veterans face in accessing VA services. Udall cosponsored this legislation with Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.).
“Today, the House joined the Senate to take a historic step toward improving the quality and accessibility of VA services for Native veterans,” Udall said. “This bipartisan legislation to establish a VA Tribal Advisory Committee and eliminate VA healthcare copayments for Native veterans will generate solutions that make VA programs work for Native veterans, in furtherance of the federal government’s trust and treaty obligations. Over 8,000 Native veterans in New Mexico— and so many more across Indian Country—have bravely served our nation with distinction only to be denied access to the services they were promised. It is long past time to ensure unbarred access for Native veterans to the VA services they are owed.”