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U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs
U.S. Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs Denis McDonough visits with attendees of the National Tribal Health Conference held in Rapid City, S.D. (Photo KOTA)

VA Secretary speaks at Tribal Health Conference in RC

RAPID CITY, S.D. -At a speech during the National Tribal Health Conference held in Rapid City this week,  U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Denis McDonough  emphasized the unique contributions and needs of Native American veterans.

“Native Americans serve at a rate that is unrivaled, among other ethnicities in this country,” Secretary McDonough stated. “And when one looks back at the critical role that our Native American warriors have played in every war that we’ve had, one is humbled by their service.”

Secretary McDonough highlighted the U.S. government’s ongoing efforts to support Native American veterans through various initiatives, including the recently enacted PACT Act.

The PACT Act is a law that expands benefits and health care for veterans who have been exposed to toxic substances while serving in certain combat zones, including Agent Orange, burn pits and other substances. The PACT Act also adds 23 presumptive conditions to health conditions that are believed to be caused by exposure to these substances. These conditions include: Asthma, Chronic bronchitis, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Constrictive or obliterative bronchiolitis, Emphysema, Granulomatous disease, Interstitial lung diseases, Pleuritis, High blood pressure, Nose irritation and inflammation, Sinus inflammation and infections.

Secretary McDonough also explains the importance of culturally competent care for Native American veterans. “We’re working right now to expand programs in individual VA hospitals to ensure that veterans – Native veterans struggling with mental health crises have access to traditional healing options, especially in light of the suicide epidemic,” he explained.

The Secretary also shared collaborative efforts between the U.S. Veteran’s Affairs and the Indian Health Service (IHS) to improve healthcare access for Native American veterans. “We can put a clinic staffed by VA professionals inside an IHS hospital so we can get them access to mental health care, access to other specialty services, right there in a shared facility,” he said.

“What will that do? Increase access points for native veterans, but it’ll also reduce costs for American taxpayers.”

The Secretary concluded by stating at the end of the day, his job is to fight for all veterans to have benefits in the United States.

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