Tribe's veterans advisory council moves forward

Noel Lyn Smith
The Upper Fruitland Color Guard performs a Memorial Day flag folding ceremony for Joanne Benally in honor of her husband, Harrison Benally, a Navajo Code Talker, on May 30.

FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation officials are continuing to make progress on organizing a new committee to oversee veterans benefits and services.

Legislation regarding the committee's operation, which was sponsored by Delegate Kee Allen Begay Jr., is posted on the tribal council's website and is assigned to the Health, Education and Human Services Committee. The committee has legislative oversight on veterans issues.

Both the Navajo Nation Veterans Administration and the Navajo Nation Veterans Advisory Council were established this year after the council and tribal President Russell Begaye approved their development.

The advisory council's purpose is to provide recommendations on policies and procedures to the administration's executive director and to the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President, as well as to advocate on behalf of veterans, surviving spouses and Gold Star mothers.

The objectives of the advisory committee include hosting quarterly meetings to develop policy recommendations and advice; addressing veterans needs with tribal commissions, boards, agencies and organizations; maintaining a resource guide for services available to veterans and their families; and providing information to veterans about benefits and services.

In March, members of the Northern Agency Navajo Veterans Organization selected U.S. Army veteran Nancy Ann Toglena Martin to serve on the advisory council.

Nancy Ann Toglena Martin talks in April about working with veterans during an interview at the Northern Navajo Veterans Center in Shiprock. The Shiprock woman has been named to the Navajo Nation Veterans Advisory Council.

Paul George is commander of the Northern Agency Navajo Veterans Organization and an advisory council member. He said today that the bill would establish the advisory council as a formal entity under the president's office so members "can officially meet to do business."

He added that when members took the oath of office, the president assigned them two issues to immediately address.

The first is housing for veterans and the second is establishing a medical services facility under the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on the reservation, George said. The center would benefit veterans because it would relieve them from seeking services from as far away as Albuquerque, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Prescott, Ariz., he added.

Paul George, commander of the Northern Agency Navajo Veterans Organization, talks about selecting Nancy Ann Toglena Martin to work with Navajo Nation veterans in an April interview at the Northern Navajo Veterans Center in Shiprock.

Jamescita Peshlakai, veterans liaison for the president's office, said the eight members on the advisory committee collaborated to develop a plan of operation.

"I hope a lot of council delegates read it and support it. It's a basic plan of operation," Peshlakai said.

Delegate Begay is sponsoring a second bill that calls for enacting a plan of operation for the Navajo Nation Veterans Administration.

The administration is under the president's office and manages benefits, outreach and services for veterans.

If the bill is approved by the Health, Education and Human Services Committee, it would also rescind the Department of Navajo Veterans Affairs, which has managed veterans affairs for the tribe since 1971.

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