Rapid City, SD – U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD), Chairman of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, held a field hearing today to examine how the Indian Health Service (IHS) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can work together more effectively to provide quality care for Native American veterans. Chairman Johnson brought together a cross section of individuals to discuss how the two departments can deliver quality services in a tough budget climate.
“With the current fiscal situation in Washington, we are going to be asked to do more with less,” Johnson said. “The VA and IHS will need to be more innovative and collaborative than ever before in order to provide services in this environment.”
Today’s hearing builds on recent efforts by the VA and IHS to improve their collaboration. In 2010, the two agencies signed a new Memorandum of Understanding to coordinate the delivery of care for Native American veterans.
Last month, the Senate passed Johnson’s subcommittee’s spending measure, the only FY2012 spending bill to be approved by the Senate. The bill included $52 million for collaborative efforts and sharing arrangements with the Indian Health Service to ensure that Native American veterans receive the care that they have earned.
As Chairman, Johnson has worked to reduce the gap in care that often exists for veterans in rural areas. Building on the Rural Health Outreach and Delivery Initiative Johnson launched in fiscal year 2009 to close gaps in VA service in rural and remote areas, the bill also included $250 million for medical care, including telehealth and mobile clinics, for veterans in rural areas, including Native American populations. His rural health initiative explores new ways of serving this population with the ability to fund new programs based on the unique needs of rural veterans, and includes our veterans covered under the Indian Health Service.
Witnesses on the first panel included Dr. Robert Jesse, Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health, Veterans Health Administration; Randy Grinnell, Deputy Director, Indian Health Service and Stephanie Birdwell, Director Office of Tribal Government Relations, Department of Veterans Affairs. The second panel included Don Loudner, National Commander, National American Indian Veterans and Iva Good Voice Flute, U.S. Air Force Veteran, Oglala Sioux Tribe.