Measure introduced by New Mexico's Tom Udall and 2 others

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FARMINGTON — Three U.S. senators have introduced legislation to establish an advisory committee to facilitate communication and understanding between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and tribal governments.

The bipartisan bill proposing establishing the VA Advisory Committee on Tribal and Indian Affairs was introduced Wednesday by senators Tom Udall, Jon Tester and Dan Sullivan in an effort to address barriers Native American veterans face when accessing VA outreach, health care and benefits.

The advisory committee would consist of 15 members, each representing the 12 regions of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, including three at-large members and up to four veterans, a press release from Udall's office states.

Committee members would meet with the VA secretary to provide guidance on affairs and report recommendations to Congress for legislation to improve access to health care and benefits for Native American veterans, according to the release.

"Native veterans, including many in New Mexico, put their lives on the line for our country — but too many of these courageous men and women aren't able to access the services they have earned," Udall said in the release.

Udall, D-New Mexico, added the committee would improve the veterans department's government-to-government relationship with tribes and develop solutions to make programs work veterans.

Tester, D-Montana, and Sullivan, R-Alaska, echoed that sentiment about improving relations and services between the VA and tribal members.

The release states the legislation has received support from tribes and tribal organizations.

Udall's office stated that a statement of support was issued by the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President.

"This bill is a step forward for tribes to have a larger voice in advising the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to help our Native American veterans," tribal President Russell Begaye said in the release.

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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