The U.S. Senate will consider expanding access to healthcare for Native American veterans and streamline the hiring process for tribal law enforcement. That’s after two bills passed out of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Wednesday.
The first, the BADGES Act, would allow the Bureau of Indian Affairs to conduct background checks for its own law enforcement applicants.
Right now, potential officers have to be screened through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which can take up to a year-and-a-half to clear candidates.
The Crow Nation has been outspoken in saying that lengthy background checks are part of the reason the tribe’s police force is understaffed.
Next the committee, which includes Montana Senators Democrat Jon Tester, who co-sponsored both bills, and Republican Steve Daines, moved to the Health Care Access for Urban Native Veterans Act. It would allow urban Indian health clinics to be reimbursed for care by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
D’Shane Barnett is the Executive Director of the Urban Indian Health Center in Missoula.
"Really what it’s about is us being able to provide care without having to pass the cost on to the individual veteran," Barnett said.
Right now, he says his budget is about $600,000 for over a thousand patients. He says the bill would help his budget go further and give veterans the care they deserve and sometimes expect.
Once or twice a month, he says Native veterans walk in and say:
"I’m Native, I’m a veteran. There’s funding for the Indian Health Service. There’s funding for the VA. Why are these costs not being covered?"
The VA currently helps pay for services at Indian Health Service units but not at any urban indian health clinics. Montana has five, one in Billings, Great Falls, Missoula, Butte and Helena.
Both bills now move to the Senate floor, where they await votes.
Olivia Reingold is Yellowstone Public Radio’s Report for America corps member.