RENO, Nev. — Native American and Alaskan Native veterans gathered in Reno on June 23-24 to learn about services available once they are finished with military responsibilities.
The Veterans Affairs Office of Tribal Government Relations, in collaboration with the Nevada Department of Veterans Services, sponsored a Native American Summit and Nevada Veteran Advocacy Training at Grand Sierra Resort in Reno.
The two-day conference offered training assistance to Tribal Veteran Representative (TVR) service officers and advocates within Nevada’s 27 tribal communities to help Native veterans and their family members with VA benefits and services.
“What we’re trying to do is educate tribal leaders about what services are available so they can take the information back to their communities,” said Terri Hendry, Communications Director of the Nevada Department of Veteran Services.
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), benefits include disability compensation, pensions, education and training, health care, home loans, insurance, vocational rehabilitation and employment, and burial.
Native Americans and Alaskan Natives, per capita, have the highest rate of enlistment into the U.S. military services than any other ethnicity, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
However, they do not seek out VA services as much as other ethnicities who have served for the U.S. military, Hendry said.
“[Native Americans] sign up, they serve and they are great warriors,” said Hendry. “Unfortunately, Native Americans have lowest per capita of signing up for services, benefits, and programs of what they earned and are entitled to.”
The VA was established in the 1930s, but was one of the last federal agencies to have tribal consultation policy.
“Our office was created in 2011, so while VA has been around a bit, they did not have a formal tribal consultation policy set in place,” said Terry Bentley, an enrolled member of the Karuk Tribe of California and a Tribal Government Relations Specialist covering the VA’s Western Region. “And that’s so important, because it’s respecting sovereignty of tribal nations and the government to government relationship.”
Bentley’s office works with tribal governments to address changes and the concerns of the veterans and their families.
“We are concerned for the welfare of our veterans,” said Arlan Melendez, Chairman of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony. “They have earned these benefit and services, and should utilize them.”
Chairman Melendez, a veteran who served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War era, is also a Selective Service local board member.
“We are really fortunate to host this meeting with the State Veteran Services,” he said. “We have a number of veterans from across the state and hopefully we can continue to have meetings like this every year.”
The summit was about recognizing the Native veterans, from the Code Talkers in WWII to the troops who are still serving today, and how they have these services available to them.
“Native Americans have really set the example of the warrior spirit,” said Chairman Melendez. “We need to assist them and welcome them home from war and make sure they are taken care of.”
Jarrette Werk is a journalism student at the University of Nevada, Reno, and works for the Sierra Nevada Media Group as an intern, writing and taking photos for First Nation’s Focus. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.