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Veteran Affairs Promotes Tribal Government Relations

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Alaska Natives in Bethel, Alaska recently had a chance to discuss Veteran Affairs health care issues with top U.S. officials.

Eric K. Shinseki, secretary of Veterans Affairs and Stephanie E. Birdwell, director VA Office of Tribal Government Relations were on hand over the Memorial Day weekend to address VA care in rural areas.

“We have to think of how to provide benefits and services in ways that are different than in other places,” Shinseki said.

For the VA, enrollment is a critical step in gaining care and services and Shinseki noted the VA reaches out to tribal areas to help increase these enrollment numbers. If tribes were to provide statistics on the Veteran population in tribal communities to the VA, the services would be beneficial to planning, coordinating and determining funding levels throughout Indian country.

During the listening session Birdwell, informed the group what her office entails, how it serves as an intergovernmental link to the VA and a resource to tribal governments.

In 2010, the VA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Indian Health Service in hopes to help coordinate care and resources for anyone eligible for VA and IHS care, an area that Shinseki admitted, “We have to do a lot better.”