Guest column: Tom O’Halleran working for tribal veterans
I am humbled to represent Arizona’s First Congressional District, a vast and diverse area that includes 12 Indian Nations and Tribes. One of the most important parts of my job is working with tribal governments to address the concerns of their citizens and ensure that the federal government is keeping its promises to them, especially to their veterans.
Federal data shows that Native Americans serve in our armed forces in greater numbers per capita than any other ethnic group. I am committed to doing everything in my power to assure that they have access to the same resources afforded to veterans in more urban areas.
I joined a bipartisan group to introduce the Department of Veterans Affairs Tribal Advisory Committee Act, a bill to establish a dedicated tribal advisory committee to provide advice and guidance to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on matters relating to Native American veterans. This committee would ensure that pertinent issues are brought to the attention of Indian Nations and Tribes in a timely manner, so that tribal feedback can be obtained, and requires the Secretary to submit reports on these issues directly to Congress so they may be addressed.
Arizona veterans have served our nation bravely; they deserve access to the highest quality care when they return home. However, due to the unique and often remote nature of tribal communities, Native American veterans often experience restricted access to necessary resources near their families and cultural support systems.
This year, I re-introduced the Nursing Home Care for Native American Veterans Act, legislation to encourage the construction of veteran nursing care homes on tribal lands by closing a loophole that prevents tribal governments from receiving federal construction and operations grant money.
Additionally, I worked with local and state advocates to secure funding for rural veterans homes in Flagstaff and Yuma. For too long, rural construction projects had been unfairly penalized by an outdated VA funding formula that left too many Native American families without the help they deserve. Construction on the Flagstaff location began in May.
Our veterans have selflessly sacrificed in defense of our great nation; now it is our turn to advocate for them and their needs. I have a dedicated tribal staff, as well as a veterans services representative who deals with veterans-related casework specifically.
My job is to listen to you. I want to hear about the issues you are dealing with in your communities. I urge you to reach out to any of my three Arizona offices, or my Washington, D.C. office with questions and concerns.
Tom O’Halleran, a Democrat, represents Arizona’s 1st Congressional District in the US House of Representatives. He and his wife Pat live in the Village of Oak Creek.