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Navajo Council Bill Seeks to Expand Benefit Access to the Tribe’s Veterans

Navajo Times/Leigh T. Jimmie

Many Navajo veterans have limited access to federal and state health benefits, especially those who live in remote areas. A new bill under consideration by the Navajo Nation Council is designed to make the Navajo Veterans Administration more responsive to veterans’ needs. Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

The tribe’s VA is staffed by fewer than 30 people and many veterans complain about poor medical care. Estimates are unclear, but there could be anywhere from 10,000 to nearly 40,000 Navajo veterans. And that could mean as much as 12 percent of the tribe’s total population are veterans.

The proposed Veterans Act would take the VA from the tribe’s human resources department and put it under the office of the president.

Jamescita Peshlakai is the Navajo Nation’s veterans’ liaison. She says the bill would create an advisory council made up of veterans that would involve them directly in the tribe’s policymaking.

“That would enable the Department of Veterans Affairs to have greater stature within the Navajo Nation government. It provides the opportunity for veterans to become more involved in the administration that would seek to provide them services,” Peshlakai says.

Peshlakai says the bill doesn’t include additional funding for the VA, but if passed, President Russell Begaye would contribute carry-over funds to the agency. Peshlakai also says state money may be available.

The Veterans Act will be considered by Navajo Council committees this week. 

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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