Guest Column | No funding shortfall for Navajo veterans

By President Jonathan Nez

On behalf of the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President, we thank all Navajo veterans for their service to our country.

We understand that there are questions regarding funding for veterans in the upcoming fiscal year 2023. Let me be very clear, there will be no funding shortfall for veterans’ services in the upcoming fiscal year.

We will allocate funding to cover veterans’ services and benefits, which will then be considered by the Council for approval.

When it comes to the Navajo Nation Veterans Trust Fund, financial reports indicate that there is over $200 million in the principal.

Since the trust fund was created in the 1990s, there have been five amendments made to the trust fund under Title 12. There is a need to once again amend this part of our laws to clarify how annual funds are distributed each year.

The Navajo Nation Department of Justice is working with the Veterans Administration to introduce legislation to fix the issues very soon.

I also want to highlight some of the progress that is being made to support our veterans. On June 28, we welcomed U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough to Gallup for a small ceremony as the Navajo Nation finally received recognition and became the first federally recognized tribe with a veteran service organization to be accredited by the federal VA.

What does this mean? It means that for the very first time, the Navajo Nation now have access to the federal VA systems to prepare, present, and process veterans benefits claims for Navajo veterans.

The Navajo Veterans Administration now has staff who are processing federal claims at the local level in each of the five Navajo agencies on the Navajo Nation. This will help deliver federal benefits to Navajo veterans much more efficiently without having our warriors travel to cities off of the Navajo Nation.

When our administration took office in 2019, the Navajo Veterans Housing Program was at a standstill and homes were not being built.

Our administration worked with veterans and the Navajo Nation Council to overhaul the housing program policy and successfully addressed deficiencies to restart the Veterans Housing Program. It took time to fix the policies and now, quality homes are being built for our veterans.

In early June, we joined 73-year-old Vietnam veteran Andrew Kelly as he received a brand-new home through the Navajo Veterans Housing Program.

More homes are being built for our veterans and never before has our Nation invested such a large amount of funding for more homes – through the ARPA bill that was signed into law last Friday, an additional $50 million will be used to build hundreds of new homes for our warriors.

On May 9, we also signed a resolution (CAP-20-22) into law, appropriating $29 million to construct and operate a 60-bed nursing home for Navajo veterans which will be named “Navajo Warriors Home.”

We thank Delegate Carl Slater for introducing the legislation and the 24th Navajo Nation Council for approving the bill. The new facility will be the very first nursing home on the Navajo Nation dedicated to Navajo veterans.

Last year, when a group of veterans marched to the Council Chamber wanting change to the process that required receipts to be submitted for purchases using veterans’ benefits funds, we welcomed them to the Office of the President and Vice President and talked through the issues presented.

We fixed the problems by replacing the requirement to submit receipts with a simple required signature attesting to the proper use of the funds. This issue was resolved and is no longer a problem.

Those are just a few of the major accomplishments that we have finalized by working together with the Council and our veterans. It’s important that we provide this information to all veterans across the Navajo Nation and beyond.

We have more than 10,000 Navajo veterans and we are proud of their service and we will continue to work toward solutions to improve and deliver more services.

On behalf of the Office of the President and Vice President, we thank you. Ahe’hee’.

Editor’s note: The Veterans Trust Fund was established in 1984 and actions in the 1990s dealt with how the trust fund income would be spent.


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