New Mexico Veterans Services, Indian Affairs secretaries to leave posts

Associated Press
Sonya Smith, cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Department of Veterans Services, speaks at a public meeting held July 21, 2022 at the American Legion in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Smith said the state proposes to build a Veterans' cemetery in the City.

SANTA FE — Two secretaries in Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's cabinet have announced this week that they are leaving their posts.

Sonya Smith, head of the New Mexico Department of Veterans Services, said she will step down Friday to spend more time with her family. Lynn Trujillo, who leads the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department, will be leaving her job at the end of this month.

Smith has been the Veterans Services’ cabinet secretary since October 2020 after previously working as a special projects manager at the state Department of Health.

With the Department of Veterans Services, Smith supported the enactment of an income tax exemption for armed forces retiree pensions.

She is credited with successfully galvanizing the state’s pushback against a nationwide Veterans Administration proposal to close 700 community-based outpatient clinics, including four in New Mexico.

Smith also oversaw the department’s launch of a transportation program that provided free round trips for veterans from 15 New Mexico counties to any VA-approved medical appointment.

A veteran of the Gulf War, Smith served as a medical technician in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm as a member of the Air Force Reserve.

Trujillo was appointed to the Indian Affairs position in January 2019.

“Lynn has been an essential part of our efforts to better support, partner with, and invest in tribal communities across the state,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement announcing Trujillo’s upcoming departure.

Lynn Trujillo, second from left, was confirmed in January 2019 as secretary for the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department.

The governor’s office said it is conducting a search for Trujillo’s replacement.

As cabinet secretary, Trujillo worked with tribal leadership, advocates and legislators on passage and enactment of aid legislation that provided additional funding to school districts in Native American communities.

She also led New Mexico’s first Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives Task Force, which led to the creation of a state response plan to address the issue.

During Trujillo’s tenure, the Lujan Grisham administration also provided life-saving resources to tribal communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.