CHEROKEE COUNTY, Oklahoma - Many Native American veterans in Green Country have more options for health care. On Friday, veterans who are eligible for health care benefits through the VA can get those from Cherokee health centers.

Native American veterans who qualify for health care through the VA can now get it at tribally operated facilities, instead of going to VA hospitals or clinics.

It has the potential to benefit a lot of people in Oklahoma.

"Indians serve at the highest per capita level of any minority or ethnic group in the nation in the services," said Chuck Grim, with the Cherokee Nation.

Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker signed an agreement with the VA enabling the tribe to be reimbursed for the treatment and care of Native American Veterans.

"They come to our clinic, we provide their services, we do the follow-up on their medicine, and it really should make it better for everybody," Baker said.

The agreement gives native veterans more flexibility in choosing where they want to get health care and allows tribal health employees to enroll veterans for military benefits.

"One of the benefits for us is better coordination of care," said Grim.

Another benefit is with a number of health clinics and hospitals operated by the Cherokee Nation, people won't have to drive as far to get health care.

The Cherokee Nation has eight outpatient facilities as well as a hospital.

"Inside the 14 counties, nobody has to drive over 30 miles to get to a clinic," Baker said.

Cherokee leaders also think the new reimbursement agreement could encourage more Native American veterans to get medical care they may be putting off.

They say another advantage is, with more Cherokee veterans using tribal facilities, it could help to improve wait times for treatment at VA facilities.

Grim said, "I think it's incredible."

The Cherokee Nation is the third tribe in Oklahoma to partner with the VA medical system. The Okmulgee Creek Nation and the Choctaw tribe also have similar agreements.