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Native Veterans
Honor guards from the Fond Du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe salute flags during a ceremony honoring Native veterans on September 19, 2021, at Camp Ripley, a training facility operated by the Minnesota National Guard. Photo by Sgt. Mahsima Alkamooneh / Minnesota National Guard
IHS and VA renew partnership to improve health of Native veterans
Wednesday, October 27, 2021
Deputy Director for Intergovernmental Affairs, Indian Health Service

For nearly two decades, the Indian Health Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs have partnered to improve the health status of American Indian and Alaska Native veterans. This is critical to the population we serve, as American Indians and Alaska Natives serve in the U.S. military at higher rates than other groups.

As we continue to build our partnership and adapt to changes and new approaches to health care, the Veterans Health Administration and IHS have signed a new memorandum of understanding [PDF] aimed at improving the health status of American Indian and Alaska Native veterans.

The agreement establishes a framework for coordination and partnering between the VA and the IHS to leverage and share resources and investments in support of each organization’s mutual goals. The agencies first signed an agreement in February 2003 to improve access and health outcomes for Native veterans, and subsequently updated it in October 2010. This newly signed agreement builds on that experience and will continue to support our objective to improve access and health care outcomes for Native veterans.

Indian Health Service and Department of Veterans Affairs: Memorandum of Understanding (2021)

The new agreement was developed with input from tribes, tribal organizations, and urban Indian organizations through six technical assistance and listening sessions provided during a 90-day tribal consultation and urban confer. I want to thank everyone who provided input and guidance as we worked to improve the agreement and enhance the care provided to our Native veterans.

Under the new agreement, the VA and IHS will work together to create an operational plan each fiscal year. The plan will include goals and objectives, as well as the tactics to achieve them, and specify targets and metrics to evaluate processes and assess outcomes. We will continue to seek input through annual tribal consultation and urban confer on this operational plan

The partnership enables Native veterans to access care closer to their homes, promotes cultural competence and quality health care, and focuses on increasing collaboration and resource-sharing between the agencies. We have already achieved remarkable results. A reimbursement agreement that was established in 2012 allows the VA to pay IHS for services provided to eligible veterans.

To date, this has provided more than $123 million in additional resources for our health programs. It also allows IHS to access the VA’s Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacy, a sophisticated mail order pharmacy program which has efficiently and safely delivered more than 5 million prescriptions directly to the homes of IHS patients, increasing access to care, decreasing wait times and improving the patient experience.

This new agreement will facilitate the integration of electronic health records between IHS and VA for Native veterans and improve care coordination between facilities operated by the VA, IHS, tribal health programs and urban Indian organizations. Together we will continue to find innovate and impactful ways to raise the physical, mental, social, and spiritual health of Native veterans to the highest level.

Relevant Resources
Letter to tribal and urban Indian organization leaders announcing the new agreement – [PDF]

VA IHS agreement –

Veteran Resources –

P. Benjamin Smith
P. Benjamin Smith. Photo courtesy Indian Health Service
P. Benjamin Smith, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, is the deputy director for intergovernmental affairs for the Indian Health Service. Smith also serves as an ex officio member of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Rural Health Advisory Committee. Smith received his Master of Business Administration from George Washington University, a Master of Arts in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University, and a Bachelor of Arts from Brigham Young University. He is also one of the Navajo Nation’s Chief Manuelito Scholars.