Honorable Few – Capt. J.J. Harris

Marine Corps League Detachment #1302

Native American veterans save millions after VA waives copayments

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Tuesday it exempted or reimbursed more than 143,000 copayments totaling approximately $2.5 million for more than 3,800 eligible American Indian and Alaska Native veterans.

The recent move comes after a policy change last year resulted in eligible members of the demographic no longer being required to make copayments for VA health care, urgent care or prescriptions. Under the policy, VA also reimburses for copayments paid on or after Jan. 5, 2022, according to a department release.

“This exemption honors our treaties with sovereign nations. It addresses health care access and disparities. It provides more health care options. And it builds on our work to strengthen our partnerships and trust,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough said during a Feb. 13 meeting of the National Congress of American Indians.

McDonough encouraged eligible Native American veterans to use VA services, noting that while the department historically did not have sufficient data to capture the full number of American Indian and Alaska Native veterans, it now estimates more than 60,000 are enrolled.

He added that in 2023, the department received over 22,000 claims from American Indians and Alaska Natives, more than a 40% increase over the previous year. The new claims also equated to nearly $70 million in benefits, a 23% increase over 2022.

Defense bill grants Native American veterans more paths to advocacy

Carol Scott, who has worked for the Veterans and Military Law Section of the Federal Bar Association, told Military Times via email that the decision to eliminate the copayments for the group was “a long time coming.”

The action was mandated by Congress in 2021 as part of a set of initiatives to improve benefits for Native American veterans, Military Times previously reported. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., who helped champion the provision into law, praised the move last spring in a release.

“This is a necessary step in ensuring those who served in uniform get the care they’ve earned,” he said.

More information on eligibility and benefits for Native American veterans is available through the VA’s website.

Military Veterans in Journalism Fellow Nikki Wentling contributed to this story.