Measure was passed unanimously by council last month

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FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye signed a bill on Monday to increase funding from the tribe's Veterans Trust Fund for programs and services that benefit Navajo veterans.

The Veterans Trust Fund was established in July 1998 to provide funding for veterans programs, projects or services such as housing, financial assistance, education, employment training or burial costs.

The bill passed by the Navajo Nation Council adds new language to the tribal code, allowing an increase to available funding for veterans in addition to reinvesting to the trust fund "to provide reasonable growth," according to a press release from the president's office.

"As our veterans grow in number and living expenses continue to rise, we need to find ways to increase funding over time while still meeting veterans' everyday needs," Begaye said in the release.

The amendment allows 75 percent of the trust fund's total income earned, plus the current projected set-aside for the fund, to be used as supplemental funding for veterans programs and services.

In addition, 2 percent of the 75 percent will go toward the Veterans Housing Program.

Under the housing program, Navajo Nation Veterans Affairs builds at least 15 homes in each of the tribe's five agencies, as well as provides minor home renovation and repairs.

Vern R. Lee, commander for the Northern Agency Veterans Organization, said today the adjustment was proposed at the grassroots level more than a year ago and gained momentum through advocacy and working with tribal lawmakers.

"It finally came to fruition. …We're happy for that," Lee said.

He added the additional funding will help veterans with expenses such as fuel and lodging when traveling to medical appointments off the reservation or securing housing.

The tribal council approved the bill 19-0 during the winter session last month.

Delegate Seth Damon sponsored the legislation. When it was under consideration by the council, he explained it would define the amount of funding available for veterans services each year, according to a press release from the Office of the Speaker.

Attached to the bill were resolutions in support from the Northern, Eastern, Fort Defiance, Chinle and Western agencies veterans organizations, and from veterans organizations in Casamero Lake, Coyote Canyon and Tsayatoh chapters.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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