CHINLE, Ariz. — Four Navajo Agency Veteran Service Officers were trained and certified to submit claims and represent veterans in cases of appeal through the Arizona Department of Veteran Services, a first for a Native American Nation.
“This is completely historic,” said John Scott, assistant deputy director for the Arizona Department of Veterans Services (ADVS). "It’s the first time this has ever happened on any Native American Nation.”
The accreditation of agency veterans service officers by the Arizona Department of Veterans Services is a result of passing the Navajo Veterans Act. The Navajo Veterans Act established the Navajo Veterans Affairs Office as an official organization, which in turn allowed the department to accredit veterans service officers.
On Jun. 24, 2016, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and ADVS Director Wanda Wright signed a ceremonial memorandum of understanding that allowed the accreditation.
The MOU between the Navajo Nation and ADVS affords Navajo VSOs access to all veteran’s affairs infrastructure to file claims on behalf of Navajo veterans.
“The Navajo Nation has a high percentage of veterans per capita,” Begaye said. “This accreditation allows us to reach veterans in rural areas and provide services to them. It opens the door for our ability to serve them.”
Vice President Jonathan Nez attended the certification ceremony, which was held at the Chinle Department of Veteran Affairs Feb. 3.
“On behalf of President Begaye and myself, I would like to congratulate the four VSOs who received their certification here today,” Nez said. “We envisioned a really strong veterans program and with your help, we will be able to reach those veterans out there who feel they might be neglected or undeserved because of their location.”
Agency officers will now have the ability to file forms for compensation, injuries incurred from when a veteran was in the military, low income pensions for veterans who struggled with financial issues during wartime and/or advocate for veterans outside of strictly filing claims.
ADVS Training Manager and Information Officer Scott Fincher said the certification will benefit Navajo communities in multiple ways.
“Prior to the four VSOs being trained, we had only one state employee, who worked for ADVS, located here in Chinle,” Fincher said. “There was only one state employee handling claims and benefits for the entire Navajo Nation, as an accredited representative. Now you have four, strategically located VSOs in different parts of the Nation.”
Fincher said that Navajo Agency veterans’ service officers will be able to do more outreach into places where veterans don’t have transportation but can still receive services.
“It’s very historic because it’s the first time in the country that VSOs from Native Nations have become accredited,” Nez said. “This certification is an example of Begaye-Nez administration’s efforts to serve our veterans by extending and providing services to them.”