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Speeches & Testimony


Speeches & Testimony

Statement in Support of Health Care Access for Urban Native Veterans Act

Washington, December 3, 2020, December 3, 2020
Madam Speaker, H.R. 4153, the Health Care Access for Urban Native Veterans Act, will ensure that Native American veterans have equal access to healthcare, regardless of their location of residence, by expanding Department of Veterans Affairs, VA, funding to include urban Indian health centers.

The Indian Health Service acts as the primary Federal agency responsible for providing healthcare to federally recognized Indian and Alaska Native communities. Currently, there are three types of facilities that make up the IHS system: Federally-operated facilities, tribally-operated facilities, and urban Indian organization-operated, UIO, facilities.

As opposed to the federally-operated and tribally-operated facilities, which are often located in remote areas, UIO facilities have been established in larger cities in order to accommodate the large populations of tribal members located in urban areas.

By law, a Native veteran is eligible to receive services under both the VA and IHS and can choose which one to use at any given time. Section 405 of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, or IHCIA, authorizes the VA to reimburse federally-operated and tribally-operated IHS facilities for any services that they provide to eligible Native veterans.

To that end, the VA has entered into one national reimbursement agreement that encompasses 74 federally-operated IHS facilities, as well as 114 individual reimbursement agreements with tribally-operated IHS sites.

However, because Section 405 does not explicitly reference UIOs, these facilities are excluded from receiving any reimbursements from the VA. This has severely hampered the ability of urban Indian health organizations to properly care for the Native veterans living in urban centers and has forced these veterans to travel great distances to reach an IHS facility or, sadly, to abstain from treatment altogether.

We can all agree that Native veterans should have equal access to healthcare, regardless of where they choose to reside. As such, H.R. 4153 will bring parity to the IHS system by allowing UIOs to enter into reimbursement agreements with the VA.

I want to thank the sponsor of the bill, Representative Ro Khanna from California, for advocating on behalf of Native veterans everywhere, and I urge quick adoption of this bipartisan legislation.