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Begich Welcomes VA/IHS Reimbursement Agreement

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today praised the Veterans Administration (VA) and the Indian Health Service (IHS) for moving forward on a policy that will allow the VA to reimburse tribal health facilities for health care service Alaska Native veterans receive at tribal health facilities.

The VA and IHS sent a letter to tribal leaders announcing the draft policy and asking for comment on a proposal for a demonstration project that would put the program in place at selected sites determined by the agencies working with the tribes.

“This is good news and progress in our ongoing efforts to allow Alaska Native veterans to receive health care in their own communities if they choose to do so,” Begich said. “Whether in Nome or Kwigillingok, this new policy will save our veterans the hardship and financial cost of traveling to Anchorage or Seattle for their care.”

Begich, a member of the Senate Veterans Committee, has been a strong advocate for this new policy, urging both agencies to come to the table to ensure the best care for rural veterans. Last summer, Begich brought both VA Sec. Eric Shinseki and Health and Human Services Sec. Kathleen Sebelius to Alaska to highlight the needs and challenges of Alaska’s rural veterans. Begich is urging the VA and IHS to expand this demonstration program to cover all rural veterans and more services.

Begich and Sec. Shinseki met with veterans and health care providers in Bethel and Kwigillingok to better understand the great distances, costs and transportation hurdles rural veterans face when they have to receive health care at VA facilities.

“Thanks in part to Senator Begich’s advocacy, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has entered negotiations with the Indian Health Service to allow Alaska Native/American Indian Veterans to use their hard earned health care benefits at Tribal facilities,” said Dan Winkelman, Vice President for Administration and General Counsel,Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation.

The IHS will host a tribal consultation meeting on April 5 where this new policy will be discussed. At a hearing last month in the Veterans Affairs Committee, Sec. Shinseki told Sen. Begich the VA was close to finalizing and implementing the cost reimbursement agreement.

Meanwhile, Begich is continuing to work for passage of his Alaska Heroes Card legislation which would allow all veterans to receive care in their own communities and the facility would be reimbursed by the VA.

Links to the letter to tribal health leaders and to the VA/IHS draft agreement are below.

http://www.va.gov/tribalgovernment/docs/IHS-VA-DTLL-Signed.pdf

http://www.va.gov/tribalgovernment/docs/IHS-VA-summary-document-2012-03-05.pdf

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