Cherokee veterans gain care options

New agreement links tribal service to VA health system

By Anita Reding, Muskogee Phoenix Staff Writer

Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr., left, and Principal Chief Bill John Baker sign the reimbursement agreement Friday. Next to Baker is James Floyd, the director of the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center. Watching from behind are Gayla Stewart, left, the victim witness coordinator for the regional U.S. Attorney’s Office; Dr. Ricky Robinson, the director of the Cherokee Veterans Center; Vickie Hanvey, the Cherokee Nation self-governance administrator; Jacque Secondine Hensley, the Native American liaison for Gov. Mary Fallin; Connie Davis, the executive director of Cherokee Nation Health Services; Tribal Council Speaker Tina Glory-Jordan; Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden; and John Alley and Bunner Gray, Indian health liaisons for the VA center.

Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr., left, and Principal Chief Bill John Baker sign the reimbursement agreement Friday. Next to Baker is James Floyd, the director of the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center. Watching from behind are Gayla Stewart, left, the victim witness coordinator for the regional U.S. Attorney’s Office; Dr. Ricky Robinson, the director of the Cherokee Veterans Center; Vickie Hanvey, the Cherokee Nation self-governance administrator; Jacque Secondine Hensley, the Native American liaison for Gov. Mary Fallin; Connie Davis, the executive director of Cherokee Nation Health Services; Tribal Council Speaker Tina Glory-Jordan; Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden; and John Alley and Bunner Gray, Indian health liaisons for the VA center.

TAHLEQUAH — Veterans who are members of the Cherokee Nation can now choose from several locations to receive health care.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker signed a reimbursement agreement with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on Friday.

The Cherokee Nation is one of several tribes that have contracts with the VA, said James Floyd, director of the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center in Muskogee.

The contract allows the tribe to be reimbursed by the VA for services rendered to Native American veterans using Cherokee Nation health centers for primary care. The contract also allows the Cherokee Nation and the VA to share patient information and charts. The VA will provide medication for veterans.

Now that the contract has been signed with the Cherokee Nation, veterans’ care can be tied to the VA system, Floyd said.

The contract will make it possible for veterans with the Cherokee Nation to receive vital services and not have to travel as far as they have been, said Baker.

“I think it’s a win, win, win for the veterans, for the Cherokee Nation and for the VA hospital,” Baker said.

The agreement with the Cherokee Nation provides health care at W.W. Hastings Hospital and eight clinics. The Cherokee Nation also is planning to build a hospital in Bartlesville, Baker said.

The initial users who can benefit from the contract total 4,500, and that number could easily increase by 1,000, Floyd said.

There are 37,000 users at the Muskogee medical center, and Native Americans are the second highest population group, he said.

“This helps us to grow as a system and to grow from within the tribe as well,” Floyd said.

Some veterans who are members of the Cherokee Nation have not used services at the VA, and this offers them an opportunity to be a part of the VA, he said.

“We are excited to partner with the Cherokee Nation in providing health care to our American Indian veterans,” Floyd said. “This agreement will allow for better coordination of care, allows tribes and IHS (Indian Health Service) to expand care for their users, shortens wait times for medical care and increases access at VA facilities for all veterans.”

Debra Wilson of Briggs is a member of an advisory committee with the VA. Many Native American veterans will be more comfortable receiving medical care at Cherokee Nation facilities, she said.

“This is something we have looked forward to for a really long time,” said Wilson, one of several veterans who witnessed the signing of the agreement.

Don Stroud of Tahlequah said he uses the Cherokee Nation Health System, and the funding that will be provided by the contract will benefit the veterans initially, “but it’s also going to impact the care that’s available for all the patients in the health system.”

“The less money spent on us, the more money available to treat that next little kid that comes in and needs the care, or the next one of our elders that comes in and needs some medication,” he said.

The funds will be there to help them because another source of funding will be available, which will equal things out, he said.