Native American Vietnam-era Veterans’ Access to VA Healthcare: Vulnerability and Resilience in Two Montana Reservation Communities


Barriers to healthcare access, Native American, Vietnam-era veterans, Rural communities


As a growing segment of the military, Native Americans are expected to increase enrollment in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare. Currently, 20% of Native American veterans are aged 65–74, which means they served during the Vietnam era. This study explores the experiences of rural American Indian veterans from two Montana reservations with accessing VA health services. Utilizing detailed data obtained in focus group and individual interviews, we examine the experiences, attitudes, barriers and needs of rural Vietnam-era veterans. Analyses indicate that while Native American Vietnam-era veterans experienced a poor reception returning to the US after military service, they had more positive receptions in their home reservation communities. However, reintegration was often impeded by poor local opportunity structures and limited resources. As they have aged and turned to the VA for healthcare, these veterans have encountered barriers such as lack of information regarding eligibility and services, qualifying for care, excessive distances to health services, the cost of travel, and poor quality of assistance from VA personnel. Despite variations in their resources, tribal community efforts to honor veterans have begun to facilitate better access to healthcare. Focusing on the roles and importance of place–based resources, this study clarifies challenges and obstacles that Native American Vietnam-era veterans experience with accessing VA health services in rural, reservation communities. Additionally, findings show how tribal efforts are facilitating access as they begin to implement the 2010 agreement between the VA and Indian Health Services to better serve Native veterans.

Original Publication Citation

Native American Vietnam-era Veterans’ Access to VA Healthcare: Vulnerability and Resilience in Two Montana Reservation Communities, Carol Ward, Michael Cope and Lindsey Elmont, Journal of Community Health, 42 (5), October 2017: 887–893 2017. (Online: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10900-017-0330-y)

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Journal of Community Health




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor