The Navajo Nation

Office of the President

     The Navajo Nation

Office of the President

Navajo Nation Veterans Administration educates Council delegates on its history, program, services and plans

LEUPP, Ariz – The Navajo Nation Veterans Administration presented a day-long comprehensive overview of its programs, services for veterans, and the problems it inherited during an orientation at the Twin Arrows Casino and Resort on Friday.

The orientation was for Navajo Nation Council Speaker Crystalyne Curley, 11 Council delegates their legislative assistants, and about 50 participants in total.

The Navajo Nation Veterans Advisory Council also attended. After the orientation concluded, the veteran advisory council continued to meet following the orientation.

Veterans, and getting needed services and housing to them, is among Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren’s highest priorities. Fulfilling that commitment to veterans began on Jan. 24 in his second week in office with the appointment of Bobbie Ann Baldwin as the new director of the veteran administration.

Baldwin’s appointment came with the recommendation of the advisory council after an extensive recruitment and interview process. Among other qualifications, Baldwin served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1996 to 1999, was a veterans service officer for the NNVA for five years, and was a policy analyst for the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.

“Thank you again for inviting us,” Speaker Curley told NNVA director Baldwin and the Advisory Council. “We’re looking forward to the next meetings, perhaps to be done quarterly.”

Curly said she also shares a sense of concern and urgency that veterans are cared for.

“Especially with my younger brother, the President, Dr. Nygren, and you know these are priorities to work on together,” Speaker Curley said.

She was thanked by delegates for staying the entire day and for recognizing that one of the greatest needs on the Navajo Nation is ensuring all Navajo veterans, regardless of when they served, receive benefits they earned and the care they deserve, especially for their emotional needs.

The most touching moment of the orientation came near the end when a Navajo couple, Franklin Gishi and Bryanna Woody of White Cone, heard of the event and came in with Mr. Gishi’s elderly parents. Taking turns, they told their story of their 10-year quest to get services, lost documentation, and having to start over.

The parents of three told of their need to live in Phoenix to provide services and proper education for their two autistic teenage sons all the while struggling to get through a system that, up to now, has not seemed to care about them.

When an OPVP staff member told Mr. Gishi’s father that his son’s story would finally reach the Navajo president’s ears, he struggled to hold back tears of gratitude.

Olin Kieyoomia, executive staff assistant for Veterans Affairs in the Office of the President and Vice President presented a history of the Navajo Nation Veterans Act and Navajo Nation Veterans Administration. Sylvia Preston, veterans service officer in the NNVA Chinle Agency Office, explained the process for VA claims, benefits and the Veterans Housing Program.

Nanette Francisco from the Navajo Nation Office of the Controller and Office of Management and Budget, explained the Navajo Veterans Trust Fund and where some discrepancies are.

Of particular concern to delegates was a $169,000 deficit in the VA Western Agency Office account, Ms. Francisco reported.

“Who’s going to pay for that?” asked Council Delegate Eugenia Charles-Newton.

She said if that amount is forgiven by the Council and the agency received another allocation, it would be unfair to other veteran agency offices.

Another concern to delegates was a multi-million dollar contract to the Sparrow Group of Albuquerque to build homes that were not completed. It was reported to delegates that the new administration had difficulty reaching the company on the phone until it left a message that its contract would be cancelled. The company immediately returned the call.

Council Delegate Andy Nez shared numerous recommendations with Ms. Baldwin and the Advisory Council.

These include:

  • ­Accountability and communication to veterans.
  • Housing, noting that homesite leases are a big challenge, resulting in many younger veterans using their GI benefit to live off the Navajo Nation.
  • Homes repairs and accessibility for disabled veterans.
  • Transportation for veterans for supplies, application assistance and services.
  • Resources for safety, mental health services, and greater access to services.
  • Great equity among men, women, gay, lesbian, trans veterans and other relatives.
  • Technical assistance for older veterans and those needing special assistance.
  • VSO visits and outreach to communities on and off the Nation.
  • Timely payments for stipends, Honor Guards and other activities that warrant payments.
  • Data collection for budgeting, housing, and population demographics.
  • And scheduling of a forum for veterans to provide their recommendations.