The Department of Veterans Affairs (also known as the VA) has announced that it is renewing its partnership with the Indian Health Service (IHS) to increase access to care for Native American and Alaska Native veterans. They are looking to improve access to Native American veterans who often suffer high barriers to accessing care, while also integrating the two healthcare systems to facilitate care. They are also looking to expand enrollment in the systems to help vulnerable populations better access the care they need.
What is the Indian Health Service (IHS)?
The IHS is the federal agency operating under the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) that deals directly with Native American populations. They were originally founded in 1955 to address healthcare issues facing Native American and Alaska Native populations, by ensuring they have the facilities and personnel they need to address their healthcare needs. They are the primary health provider to Native American and Alaska Native people around the country, with approximately 2.2 million Native American patients in their system.
What is the IHS’ Partnership With the VA?
Starting in 2003, the IHS began partnering with the VA to address issues stemming from getting care to Native American and Alaska Native veterans. It is estimated that approximately 145,000 veterans are of Native American or Alaska Native heritage, with many receiving care through one or both of those agencies. However, this group of veterans tends to suffer disproportionately from barriers to accessing care, which is what the partnership is intended to address.
How Does This Partnership Help Veterans?
This partnership is intended to help integrate services to make it easier for eligible veterans to get the care they need. Both the IHS and VA healthcare systems are notorious for having antiquated record systems, among other issues that impede people’s ability to access care. By working together, they hope to address these problems to ensure uniformity of care between both systems for all Native American and Alaska Native veterans.
What Steps Are They Taking to Improve Care?
Aside from making technological improvements to facilitate better record-keeping, they are also creating systems to help reimburse the IHS for care provided to veterans. They are also helping to provide training and recruitment resources to ensure veterans’ needs are met. They have also expanded systems to help rural veterans access care, including increasing access to necessary medications through the mail.
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