Navajo Nation Authorized to File Claims for VA Benefits

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Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough and U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, DN.M., meet World War II and Korean War veteran Frank Lucero Sr. and his son, Frank Jr., at a a visit to the Albuquerque VA regional office on June 27. Lucero Sr is an Army veteran and spoke to McDonough about the benefits and care he receives from VA. (Jennifer A. Roy/US Department of Veterans Affairs)

The Navajo Nation Veterans Administration has been officially recognized by the head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to be the first tribal nation program to receive accreditation to help veterans submit their federal benefit claims directly to the VA.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough acknowledged the status of the tribal government program during a June 28 visit to Gallup.

“We negotiated this with President Nez and his team. They are the first tribe to assume this new authority,” McDonough said. “I am delighted that we can announce it today and, just as importantly, put it into action.”

He added that this is part of the VA’s work to ensure that tribal nations have a seat at the table, this includes the presence of veteran duty officers on tribal lands who can submit claims for veterans benefits. VA fighters.

McDonough’s visit came a day after it was announced that a group of bipartisan senators had halted the process of reviewing VA recommendations to close outpatient clinics in several states, including those in Gallup, Española , Raton and Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez noted that the accreditation obtained by the Tribal Government VA will greatly help Navajo veterans, many of whom have difficulty traveling to VA centers outside of tribal lands. .

“Today marks an important milestone with our partnership with the VA as well as our Navajo Nation VA,” Nez said.

Last month, Nez’s office announced that the Navajo Nation VA met the criteria and standards to be accredited through the Federal VA Tribal Representation Expansion Project.

There are now five Navajo Nation VA staff accredited under the project and can process applications for federal veterans benefits, according to a statement from Nez’s office.

Navajo Nation VA Director James Zwierlein said employees work from VA Tribe offices in Shiprock, Crownpoint, Tse Bonito, Chinle and Tuba City.

A sixth person is being trained to work at the Fort Defiance office, he added.

The press release says staff members have registered and submitted 83 claims to the federal VA system since May 2.

In remarks at the June 28 event, Zwierlein said these applications were filed on behalf of Navajo veterans, but there were more veterans, including non-Navajo and non-Navajo veterans. Native Americans, awaiting assistance with claims.

McDonough also participated in a town hall with Nez, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, DN.M., and U.S. Representative Teresa Leger Fernández, DN.M., on the University of New Mexico campus in Gallup.

According to Nez’s office, the group heard from veterans, members of the Navajo Nation Veterans Advisory Council, and state and tribal leaders about health care, claims for benefits, and the need for expansive care. for traditional healing and mental health services.

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