WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) – ranking member and chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee – recently introduced legislation to make certain culturally competent mental health care for American Indian veterans is provided at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers nationwide.
Their legislation, the American Indian and Alaska Native Veterans Mental Health Act, would require each VA medical center to hire a minority veteran coordinator trained in the delivery of mental health and suicide prevention services which are culturally appropriate for Native veterans. The bill would also require each facility’s minority veteran coordinator to work in tandem with a suicide prevention coordinator to contact local tribal leadership, consult with them on mental health care delivery and provide the VA medical center director with an annual written plan for specific outreach to American Indian veterans.
“American war heroes come from every corner of our country, and as they transition out of the military, the VA must work to make certain all veterans have access to care,” said Sen. Moran. “This legislation would provide specific mental health outreach for American Indian veterans, who often live in rural or medically underserved areas, and training for VA staff to better serve veterans in the American Indian community.”
“Native veterans need assurance that they’ll get top-notch assistance when seeking earned care from VA—especially when it comes to their mental health,” said Sen. Tester. “Our bipartisan bill will ensure VA facilities in Montana and beyond are working directly with Tribes on the ground to strengthen outreach and connect more veterans with the mental health care they deserve.”
Last week, Sens. Moran and Tester led a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing to discuss the VA’s efforts to address the needs of American Indian veterans across the country. During the hearing, VA officials were pressed on a variety of issues including providing culturally competent mental health care and partnering with tribes to develop suicide prevention programs specific to American Indian veterans.
Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.