Opinion

Heidi Heitkamp: Doing more to help Native American veterans






Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) in Bismarck, North Dakota. June 14, 2014. Photo from Facebook

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) hosted a Native American Veterans Summit last month on the campus of the United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, North Dakota:
One important part of this mission that has yet to be fulfilled is properly making sure that services and benefits are reaching all veterans, including Native Americans who serve in the military at a higher rate than any other ethnic group. They have been enlisting in the military at record numbers even before they received the right to vote.

Last month, I held my first Native American Veterans Summit in Bismarck to learn about the unique perspective and challenges that many of our Native American veterans face. With about 140 Native American veterans in attendance, I learned a great deal and worked to provide them with more information about services and benefits they had earned.

I heard stories from veterans like BJ Rainbow of the Spirit Lake Indian Tribe, who was taught in the military to “overcome and adapt” when confronted with challenges. So, when he and many other veterans come back to the U.S., they are often reluctant to ask for help, even when they need it most. When it comes to providing support and benefits for our veterans, we can do better — and we will. That means improving understanding, increasing access and providing critical resources for all veterans.

For Native American veterans, it all begins with strengthening partnerships between tribes and federal, state and local governments. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Indian Health Service need to effectively work together to deliver health care that eligible Native American veterans have earned, including culturally-competent services. And we have to tailor these services to meet the needs of individuals and tribes and not adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. Moving forward, we have to simplify the system and improve communication, making benefits easier to navigate and understand.

Get the Story:
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp: Services, benefits need to reach all U.S. veterans (The Jamestown Sun 7/2)

Related Stories:
Sen. Heitkamp hosts Native veterans summit in North Dakota (6/12)