Veterans’ trust fund budget decreases in fiscal 2023
During the Budget and Finance Committee’s regular meeting on Tuesday, James Zweirlein, director of the Veterans Administration Department, gave an update on the veterans’ trust fund budget for fiscal year 2023.
Zweirlein said the controller’s office had not calculated allocations for the budget correctly.
When Zweirlein began, he told a story about a child who learns about the consequences to his actions because the child was playing with a knife and ended up with severe nerve damage.
He said he used this illustration to paint a picture about the veterans’ trust fund.
“At the beginning of the budget cycle, the NNVA gets a memo from OOC that lists the funding allocation for the veterans’ trust for the coming fiscal year,” he said. “We got that memo from OOC around May 20.”
He referenced an event from last year and said individual veterans “complained” about how the budget was formulated.
“Veterans’ organizations were passing resolutions all saying that they wanted to have the budgets their way,” he said. “All of them, and some delegates included, wanted to disregard Navajo Nation law in favor of what these individuals wanted.”
Delegate Amber Crotty called a point of order two times during the meeting. The first time was after Zweirlein said the veterans wanted the budget their way.
“I’m going to ask if you could ask the presenter to keep the decorum in this committee meeting,” Crotty said to Chairman Jamie Henio.
“This is a formal meeting,” she said, “not the Jerry Springer show and the type of scenarios that are being presented are the director’s opinion and are very disrespectful to our veterans and I will not tolerate it.”
Zweirlein continued with his report and said OOC had calculated that the allocation for the fiscal year was going to be $4.8 million and would be distributed to the five agencies.
“Started looking into this because individuals wanted the budget to be allocated following the 50-50 formula that the Navajo Nation utilizes,” he said.
However, he said the formula does not apply to veterans’ funds. Due to the continued digging by the individuals, Zweirlein said they found the OOC calculations were wrong, and it will result in a 60% decrease in the funding allocation for this year.
“We’re going to go from $4.8 million to $2 million,” he said.
He said the carryover balances may not have been legally carried over due to a law that states the carryovers do not exist and that unexpended funds are directed to become invested into the principal of the fund.
“So, the $3 million in change that we just finished loading a few weeks back, we may have to recover that and reinvest that into the principal,” Zweirlein said. “That’s almost a $6 million negative swing to the veteran population in financial assistance.”
Zweirlein said this situation is the result of him giving the veterans’ exactly what they have asked for and which he has been directed to do.
“This is the result,” he said. “A decrease of $2.8 million in available financial assistance going into fiscal year 2023, a new memo that is going to be issued by the office of the controller on Thursday this week with that new dollar amount that will result in a truncated timeline.”
The chapter veterans’ organizations that wanted to do their allocation will have no time to put their budgets together, Zweirlein said. He also said that his department will be behind in the process of trying to take care of the veterans’ trust fund budgets.
“I wanted to make the committee aware that this is no longer the fault of the NNVA,” he said. “We talk decorum and I agree but I will not sit quietly anymore and be blamed for circumstances that are no longer mine.”
After he finished, Crotty called a point of order once again and asked Henio to ask Zweirlein to remain on topic and to give a written report with no opinions.
“This agent (Zweirlein) has given a freefall to hurt our veterans,” Crotty said. “This committee should not stand for what he says.”
Once the new numbers are given to the department, Zweirlein said he will be able to tell the agencies their allocations are down to the CVO level and he no longer has the authority to change the formulas to accommodate the 50-50 formula.