The Native VetSuccess at Tribal Colleges and University Pilot Program Act, H.R. 2878, passed the House on May 19. The Senate has since read the bill twice and referred it to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, so far with zero amendments.
The bill would create a five-year program to provide improved on-campus benefits in the form of assistance and counseling to eligible students.
The bill would also aim to improve partnerships between the VA and nonprofits to fight veteran homelessness.
Approximately 14,627 active-duty service members identify as American Indian or Alaska Native, according to a 2019 demographics report from the Defense Department.
“Our veterans have done so much for our country, and Native Americans have had the highest level of participation in our military on a per capita basis throughout America’s history,” Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz., one of the main sponsors on the bill, told Military.com.
“We need to acknowledge that, but the best thing we can do for our veterans is to make sure they’re highly educated, and help them and their families out.”
“We have veterans that have to travel five hours one way to get care and then turn around and go five hours back in the same day,” O’Halleran explained. “Even with the added funding that we’ve seen, it still hasn’t gotten to a level where a veteran, whether on tribal lands or in rural America, is getting treated the same as a veteran in urban environments. They need to be able to get the benefits that they deserve.”
The bill is the latest effort by Congress to bolster support for Native American veterans: In February, the House introduced the American Indian and Alaska Native Veterans Mental Health Act, H.R.912, which is still awaiting a vote after referral to the Subcommittee on Health.
What H.R. 912 aims to provide is greater outreach to American Indian and Alaska Native veterans by requiring all VA medical centers to have no fewer than one full-time employee whose responsibility is serving as a minority veteran coordinator. The bill states that the coordinator must receive training in the delivery of “culturally appropriate mental health and suicide prevention services” to American Indian and Alaska Native veterans.