VA, IHS Join to Improve Native American Vets’ Lives

VA, IHS Join to Improve Native American Vets’ Lives

During the last two decades, the Indian Health Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs have been working together to boost the health of American Indian and Alaska Native veterans. The importance of this issue is brought home by the fact that a large number of Alaska Natives and American Indians serve in the military at a higher rate than other groups.

To enhance this partnership and respond to healthcare changes, the Veterans Health Administration and the IHS have signed a memorandum of understanding designed to strengthen healthcare benefits for Alaska Native and American Indian veterans. 

Through the agreement, the VA and the IHS will cooperate and work together to share resources and investments supporting their respective objectives. In February 2003, the first agreement was signed to improve healthcare access for Native veterans, and an updated agreement was signed in October 2010. The newly signed agreement builds on that experience and supports the mission of providing better access and health care to Native veterans.

Through six technical assistance and listening sessions conducted during a 90-day tribal consultation and urban conference, this new partnership had been made to evolve after thorough research from various Native American organizations.  

As part of the new agreement, the VA and IHS will create an operational plan for each fiscal year. Defining targets and metrics for evaluating processes and assessing outcomes will be included in the program, along with goals and objectives. Annual tribal consultations and urban conferences will continue to solicit input on this operational plan through the partnership. Native veterans can access health care closer to home while fostering cultural competency and quality care. The partnership aims to increase collaboration and resources among the participating organizations. It has already achieved notable results. In 2012, a reimbursement agreement allowed the VA to pay IHS for services provided to eligible veterans.

Since then, more than $123 million in additional resources have been made available to our health programs. Moreover, the VA's Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacy program offers IHS access to more than 5 million prescriptions that have been efficiently and safely delivered directly to the homes of IHS patients, enabling IHS to improve access to care, decrease waiting times, and improve patient experience. 

IHS and VA will now integrate electronic health records and provide improved care coordination for Native veterans between facilities operated by the VA, IHS, tribal health programs, and urban Indian organizations through this new agreement. To ensure that Native veterans have the highest physical, mental, social, and spiritual health, this will continue to use innovative approaches.