Native American veterans are often denied the specialized health care they need as a result of their service because of their isolation on rural reservations across the nation, according to a member of the Colville Tribal Business Council who’s on the National Indian Health Board.
The Indian Health Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs must do a better job coordinating health care for Native veterans, Andy Joseph Jr. told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday.
“It would be good to have mental health workers and people that understand our culture help our Iraq veterans,” he said in an interview from Washington, D.C.
Under questioning by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Joseph said American Indians serve in the military at the highest per capita rate of any ethnic group.
“Tribal veterans face some of the toughest barriers to accessing the services they have earned,” Murray said in a news release.
Native veterans face the same problems as non-Native veterans, Joseph said, but when they return from service, they must rely on a reservation health care system that is underfunded and ill-equipped to deal with their problems, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder.
Citing a 2003 memorandum of understanding between the VA and the Indian Health Service, Joseph said he would like to see funding for public health nurses and counselors to treat veterans on reservations, as well as clerical help with medical paperwork.