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President Begaye to Sign Navajo Veterans Act Saturday

Jon Austria/The Daily Times/AP

Navajo Nation officials plan to revamp the tribe’s Veterans Administration. President Russell Begaye will hold a signing ceremony Saturday of a bill designed to more closely involve the tribe’s veterans in policymaking that affects their benefits and services. Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

Many Navajo veterans have limited access to state and federal benefits, and say they experience poor healthcare. The Veterans Act will move the VA, which is staffed by less than 30 people, from the tribe’s human resources department to the Office of the President and Vice President.

It’ll also create the Navajo Nation Veterans Administration and Advisory Council. Jamescita Peshlakai is the veterans’ liaison for the office of the president.

“It provides for the opportunity for veterans to become more involved. The veterans themselves know what their challenges are. They’re the ones who have the experience and expertise and we’re just bringing them on board,” she says.

Peshlakai says there could be anywhere between 10,000 and nearly 40,000 Navajo veterans, but no clear estimate exists. The new law will modernize recordkeeping technology and allow the tribe to get a more accurate count of its veterans.

Though the bill doesn’t include any new funding for the VA, President Begaye says he’ll contribute carry-over funds to the agency.

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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