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Native American Veterans Get New Access To Local Health Care

American Indian and Alaska Native veterans can now see local Indian Health Service providers for care that is covered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Under the agreement the VA will now reimburse local Indian Health Service doctors for providing things like mental health care, pharmacy services, and diagnostic testing.

Roughly 6,200 Native American veterans live in Washington. Many live in rural areas, so getting health care at VA facilities meant hours of travel time on the road. The new agreement will lift that burden.

It could also improve the relationship between health provider and patient, according to Terry Bentley from the VA office of tribal-government relations for its western region.  "Veterans who get their care at those IHS facilities probably feel that the care is more culturally competent and they're more comfortable [than at VA clinics and hospitals]," Bentley says.

Bentley says local access to care for Native Americans and Alaska Natives will also help shorten wait times, which can be significant at VA facilities. Many are hopeful the agreement will serve as a first step for more agreements between the VA and tribal health programs.