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Bipartisan Bill to Address Mental Health Needs of Native Veterans Introduced

August 27, 2020
Press Release

Norman, OK – Congressman Tom Cole (OK-04) recently joined Congresswoman Julia Brownley (CA-26) and Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small (NM-02) in introducing the bipartisan American Indian and Alaska Native Veterans Mental Health Act of 2020, which would ensure culturally competent mental health care for Native veterans. Cole is a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma and co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus.

“Throughout our history, I am proud that Native Americans have consistently enlisted in the United States military at a higher rate than any other racial or ethnic group,” said Congressman Tom Cole. “Like all veterans, Native Americans who have served in uniform deserve the best care and service the VA can provide. Therefore, it is critically important that VA medical personnel are equipped to recognize, understand and address their unique needs. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing the American Indian and Alaska Native Veterans Mental Health Act, which would provide for trained minority coordinators in VA facilities and ensure our Native veterans receive the care and attention as it is needed.”

American Indians and Alaska Natives are at high risk for suicide, including American Indian and Alaska Native military personnel and veterans. Native veterans continue to lack appropriate access to culturally competent mental health care and suicide prevention through the VA. In response, the American Indian and Alaska Native Veterans Mental Health Act would:

  • Mandate that every VA medical facility have a minority veteran coordinator and ensure that they are trained in the delivery of culturally competent mental health care for Native veterans.
  • Require each facility’s minority veteran coordinator to work with the facility’s suicide prevention coordinator to contact local tribal leadership, provide the VA medical facility director with an annual written plan for specific outreach to Native veterans and document the mental health care provided.
  • Require the VA to collect and provide data on the minority status, tribal enrollment and second language capacity of VA mental health care providers.

“As Chairwoman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health, my top priority is ensuring that VA is providing equity in access to comprehensive, high quality care, especially to our most vulnerable veterans,” said Congresswoman Julia Brownley. “For hundreds of years, Native Americans have fought to defend our nation and it’s time that we provide them with culturally appropriate mental health care as a part of the holistic care that Native veterans receive from VA. I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to better address the needs of our Native veteran population.”

“New Mexico sadly has one of the highest suicide rates in the country, said Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small. “We must do more to help our most vulnerable populations by providing them the necessary support before their mental health reaches a crisis point. The creation of a specialized position to meet the unique needs of minority and Native American veterans can be a crucial tool to tackle the veteran suicide epidemic and I appreciate working with Representatives Brownley and Cole to find creative solutions to support our veterans.”

Support for the legislation includes the American Psychiatric Association, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Modern Military Association of America, Minority Veterans of America, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Read the text of the bill here.