Farmington — Securing money to build houses for Navajo veterans could divide the mandatory funds set aside for the Navajo Nation Veterans Trust Fund.
Each year, 4 percent of the tribe's projected revenue is transferred into the Veterans Trust Fund.
During a special session Monday, the Navajo Nation Council approved dividing that amount, sending 2 percent to the trust fund and 2 percent to the Department of Navajo Veterans Affairs, through fiscal year 2017.
The veterans affairs department plans to use its amount to construct at least 15 homes and provide minor home renovations for veterans in each of the five agencies.
In the last three years, the amount the tribe has provided the department for services has been reduced, said David Nez, the department's director.
Last year's funding was not enough to build new housing and only paid for minor repairs, he said.
As of May 2012, there were 10,128 veterans registered with department, with 2,242 from the Northern Agency.
"My thought is that it does help fund our housing program," Nez said about the amending the percentage.
Within the last two years, the department has hosted veterans town hall meetings and agency public hearings.
"Out of those, we determined that housing was the No. 1 need for veterans," Nez said, adding that health care, education and financial assistance are also concerns.
Erny Zah, spokesman for Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, said the bill was submitted late Tuesday for Shelly's review, which can last up to 10 days.
The Veterans Trust Fund was established in 1998 with an initial appropriation of $6 million from the undesignated tribal reserves.
As of Aug. 8, the fund balance was $86.1 million, according to a memorandum from the Office of the Controller to delegate Alton Joe Shepherd, who sponsored the amendment.
The trust fund's purpose is to provide assistance for veterans programs, projects and services or activities, including housing.
All money deposited into the trust fund is invested in accordance with the tribe's investment policies, and the fund principal cannot be spent without a referendum adopted by a two-thirds vote of all registered Navajo voters, according to tribal law.
Wallace Charley, the veteran service officer for the Department of Navajo Veterans Affairs's Shiprock Agency office, said the benefit of the amendment is funding for veteran housing and repairs, but the drawback is reducing the amount deposited annually into the trust fund.
Charley echoed Nez's comment that funding for veterans housing has been reduced over the years.
In previous years, the Shiprock Agency has built at least 10 houses, but last year, only half a home was constructed, he said.
"Right now, we are waiting patiently to see what the president does," Charley said.
Concerns about the amendment were expressed in a letter to delegates from the Northern Navajo Veterans Organization, which is comprised of veterans from the 19 chapters in the Northern Agency.
Paul George, the organization's commander, said he opposes the amendment because it would fund more administrative costs, rather than housing.
He also questions the criteria that would be used to determine which veterans receive housing.
"I feel the resolution has to be looked at, and if (there is) any violation of the original trust fund resolution that was passed, it can be challenged," George said.