Changes proposed for Veterans Trust Fund

Noel Lyn Smith
The Navajo Nation Council building is pictured in Window Rock, Ariz. Council delegates will consider a bill on Monday that would change the chapter structure.

FARMINGTON – A new bill posted on the Navajo Nation Council website proposes changes to a program designed to build homes for Navajo veterans using funds from the Veterans Trust Fund.

The Veterans Trust Fund was established in July 1998 for the purpose of providing funding for veterans programs, projects and services.

In September 2013, former Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly signed into law amendments that divided the mandatory percentage of the tribe’s projected revenue that is deposited each year into the trust fund and that authorized the housing program.

Since then, 2 percent of the tribe’s projected revenue is transferred into the trust fund. A separate 2 percent is transferred to the Department of Navajo Veterans Affairs to build at least 15 homes in each of the tribe’s five agencies through fiscal year 2017.

This week, Delegate Jonathan Hale introduced legislation to reduce the number of homes built each year to 10. The bill also proposes that each agency have the option of purchasing modular homes for veterans.

Hale said on Friday the legislation was developed after he heard numerous concerns about the housing program and complaints about the quality of the homes being constructed. He said those complaints include building materials being exposed to the weather, which damages their quality, and materials being taken from construction sites.

During Friday’s telephone interview, Hale spoke about visiting a home site in the Tsé Lichíí Chapter where the lumber developed mold because it was exposed to rain and snow. And the home’s foundation was uneven, he said.

By reducing the number of homes being built, construction crews can take more time to build a quality home or the veteran can exercise the option of receiving a modular home, he said.

Another reason Hale is proposing the use of modular homes is because those homes are built to meet construction codes then delivered to the home site for installation. There are no construction codes on the Navajo Nation.

“I’m trying to make a solution to the issue,” Hale said.

Wallace Charley, the veteran service officer for the Department of Navajo Veterans Affairs’ Shiprock Agency, said in a March 2014 interview that a veteran from Aneth, Utah, was the first to receive a home in the Northern Agency under the program. The Daily Times could not find out if the required 15 homes in the Northern Agency have been built each year under the program because Charley was unavailable for comment on Friday. The Department of Navajo Veterans Affairs office in Window Rock, Ariz., could not supply the information because the employee who oversees the program was unavailable.

Hale’s bill was posted on the Navajo Nation Council website Tuesday, starting its five-day public comment period.

It was assigned to the Law and Order; Health, Education and Human Services; Budget and Finance; and Naa’bik’íyáti’ committees and to the council, where final authority rests.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached 505-564-4636.