Support Native Veterans During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Americans Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest representation in the U.S. armed forces, according to the Department of Defense, but few outside of the Native and military communities are aware of their significant contributions. To put it to numbers, there are roughly 31,000 active duty Native American servicemen and women and 140,000 living Native veterans, according to a 2017 survey.

History of Native American Veterans

Native Americans play an important role in U.S. military success. During World War II, a group of Native soldiers now known as the Navajo Code Talkers used their Native language to develop a secret communication code used during the conflict – it was never deciphered by enemies and is often credited for helping to win the war. The Code Talkers are still recognized for their dedication and bravery every August 14th on National Navajo Code Talkers Day. Beyond World War II, Native Americans continued to enlist in the military and roughly 42,000 served in the Vietnam War.

The Struggle for Health Care

Despite their service and sacrifice, Native American veterans have struggled with receiving proper healthcare after returning home, especially those who rely on the Indian Health Service (IHS). And if treated at urban IHS facilities, they generally aren’t eligible for reimbursement through the Affordable Care Act.

During this critical time of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Native American veterans are in need of quality health care. Many of them fall within populations that are more at-risk of complications from COVID-19, whether due to age or underlying health conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease or respiratory illness.

Fortunately, there was recent traction on Capitol Hill toward passing a bipartisan bill that will help these urban vets who are not currently receiving aid for IHS services. The bill, Health Care Access for Urban Native Veterans Act (H.R.4135), would authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs to pay for veterans care at urban IHS centers. H.R.4135 received markups in March and is now ready to be introduced to the House of Representatives.

Support Native Veterans

In the meantime, the Native American Veterans Association provides support to Native veterans and posts important resources related to COVID-19 safety recommendations and resources. In a random survey, half of PWNA’s tribal partners reported serving veterans in their communities, including for COVID-19 relief. The National Native American Veterans Memorial is also currently accepting donations for the development of its memorial to honor Native veterans, which is set to be developed in Washington, D.C.

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