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Navajo Veterans Advisory Council Members Sworn Into Office

The Pueblo Chieftain

Members of the first Navajo Nation Veterans Advisory Council were sworn into office this week. As Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, the 10-member group was created to give the tribe’s veterans easier access to healthcare and other benefits

The Navajo Veterans Act established the Advisory Council to give veterans a direct say in policymaking. The act was signed into law by President Russell Begaye earlier this year and moved the Veterans Administration into the Office of the President.

Council member Hubert Smith says restructuring the VA and creating the council will give the agency greater access to funding and other government departments.

“It took us 45 years to get the Veterans’ Act passed,” says Smith. “It’s actually going to elevate our organization into full recognition by our own government and the federal government.”

Smith says the most important issues for the council are housing and helping the tribe’s homeless veterans. He also says greater access to physical and mental healthcare is a priority.

Another goal of the Navajo VA is update its recordkeeping to get an accurate count of its veterans, which could be anywhere between 10 and 40,000. Eventually the council wants to establish a Navajo VA hospital along with a veterans’ cemetery and museum.

The Advisory Council hopes to develop an operational plan by this summer, and will present the Navajo Nation Council with a proposed budget by early 2017.

Ryan Heinsius was named interim news director and managing editor in January 2024. He joined KNAU's newsroom as an executive producer in 2013. He covers 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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