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Challenges remain for VA services to Tribal Health Centers

RENO, Nev. -- The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Indian Health Service have been trying to improve access to care for Native American veterans since their 2010 memorandum of understanding. But according to a recent audit by the Government Accountability Office, the agencies are facing challenges in implementing the memorandum.

The audit shows the VA and IHS facilities have taken actions to reach out to the community, but it also shows challenges remain. That includes establishing reimbursement agreements, which would reimburse clinics for services provided to veterans.

The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony said they have been working on getting an agreement done for about two years and it is unknown when it will be complete. "We're collaborating and cooperating and we've got great leadership at the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and I really feel like it's just down the pike," said Stacey Montooth.

Montooth said nearly 800 veterans are active patients at the Reno-Sparks Tribal Health Center, so a reimbursement agreement would make a big difference. "That kind of an understanding, where we have that reimbursement agreement would really be helpful. In the long run, it helps our colony become self-sufficient and thats really our goal."

The VA Sierra Nevada Healthcare System said potential agreements are distinct to the tribe involved, which may be a reason it is taking so long to complete. But since the national MOU contract, the VA considers reimbursement agreements a top priority in our area. "Part of the process for setting up reimbursement agreements, we will develop local MOU and share agreements with tribes," said Robert Yang.

Yang said another focus for the VA is reaching more Native American veterans. "The biggest thing overall is communication. We want to get the word out there about what we can do and how we can help out, so mostly just trying to bridge the gap, and reach everyone."

Although challenges remain, Montooth believes VA collaboration efforts are improving. The local veterans administration was undergoing remodeling and they needed help with some of the dental service they provide, so we were able to provide a little space here. They brought their patients here and they were treated."

On Thursday, Yang said he is meeting with the Inter-Tribal Council of Nevada to provide more information regarding the reimbursement agreement process, and also to discuss other ways they can work together to help more Native American veterans.