Veterans Services gets boost

Begaye signs Memorandum of Understanding allowing vets to file claims without having to travel off Navajo Nation

Arizona Department of Veterans Services Director Wanda Wright and Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye sign a Memorandum of Understanding that will make it easier for veterans to file claims for services on the Nation. Submitted photo

Arizona Department of Veterans Services Director Wanda Wright and Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye sign a Memorandum of Understanding that will make it easier for veterans to file claims for services on the Nation. Submitted photo

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - A new agreement between the Arizona Department of Veterans Services (ADVS) and the Navajo Nation makes it easier for veterans to file claims without having to travel to an office off the Nation to receive services.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye joined Wanda Wright, director for ADVS, for a ceremonial signing of the Memorandum of Understanding June 24, which allows the Arizona Veteran Services office to accredit Navajo Veteran Services officers.

Wright said that Navajo Veterans Services officers will now have access to veteran's affairs infrastructure and can file claims on behalf of Navajo veterans - without the veterans traveling off the reservation.

"It opens the door for our ability to serve the Navajo Nation, which has a high percentage of veterans per capita," she said. "This allows us to reach these veterans and provide to them right at home."

Wright said the recently passed Navajo Veterans Act, which defined the Navajo Veterans Affairs office as an organization, allowed the Arizona Veteran's Office to be able to accredit Navajo Veterans Service officers.

Begaye said the Veteran's Act was significant. Without it, the Nation could not have established the agreement and he said the act has opened many doors at the state, county and federal levels.

"We're looking forward to our people getting the type of services that are delivered at the federal level," he said.

Begaye added that through the act, he was able to sign another agreement recently for a voucher service for homeless veterans provided through Veteran's Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH).

"We now have the VASH voucher program on the Navajo Nation," Begaye said. "Now, homeless Navajo veterans in places like Flagstaff, Page, Phoenix and Tucson will have the program extended to them regardless if they are situated on the Navajo Nation or not."

Begaye thanked the Navajo Nation commanders and staff at all the area veteran agencies and Jamescita Peshlakai, veteran liaison for the Office of the President and Vice President, for committing to the agreement and seeing it through on behalf of Navajo veterans.

Peshlakai said since the Begaye-Nez administration took office one year ago, tremendous strides have been made for Navajo veterans.

"Today is a historic day for the Navajo Nation and the state of Arizona as we work together for the rights of our veterans," Peshlakai said. "We have all reached out to each other and we all have a stake in this together."

She acknowledged Coconino County Board of Supervisors Chair Lena Fowler and District Director for Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, Ron Lee, for their attendance at the signing. Northern Arizona University President Rita Cheng, the Native American Student Center office staff and NAU Veterans Service Center staff were also on hand for the signing.

Begaye extended his thanks to Wright and sees the agreement as another step and opportunity for veterans to be served on the Navajo Nation. He said the administration has made a sincere commitment to serve veterans in extending and providing services to them.

"In the past, it has been political rhetoric," he said. "With us, it's real."

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