Veteran issues in Indian country saw an emphasis in 2015 on housing, in particular with homes on tribal land and with efforts to end homelessness among Native veterans. Furthermore, suicide prevention became a priority with the signing on February 12, 2015 of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. Tribes also worked independently of the VA by creating their own veterans facilities, with one of these being the Chickasaw Nation Veterans Lodge. By the end of 2015, the National Museum of the American Indian announced the creation of a Native Veterans memorial, with plans for an unveiling on the National Mall by Veterans Day 2019.
Homes for the Homeless
February 2015 saw the beginnings of consultations in tribal communities concerning a joint collaboration between the departments of Housing and Urban Development and the Veterans Administration. The collaboration known as HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) sets aside $4 million in housing vouchers for homeless Native veterans. This averages to $6,000 per homeless vet. The first of six consultations with tribes began in Phoenix, Ariz. According to Indian Country Today Media Network correspondent Mark Fogarty, at least 650 veterans were expected to benefit from the services.
The offerings of HUD-VASH are in addition to the 25 Cities Initiative started in early 2014. This initiative began an effort to identify by name all homeless veterans in major cities. These include urban areas in Indian Country such as Denver, Seattle, Portland, Phoenix and Tucson, in addition to larger cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Preventing the Ripples of Suicide
Suicide is one of the many devastating end results of post-traumatic stress disorder, with the ripples affecting other family members—even for generations afterward. On February 12, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. The goal of the law is to expand services for veterans in suicide prevention, as well as additional monies for recruiting college graduates who specialized in psychiatric disciplines. Written by ICTMN arts editor Vincent Schilling, the law is named for Clay Hunt, an Iraq and Afghanistan marine veteran who suffered from PTSD and took his own life in 2011 at age 28.
According to Schilling’s article, at least 20 percent of suicide deaths are veterans, while suicide is the eighth leading cause of death for American Indian and Alaskan Natives. For Native males 20-24 and Native males and females ages 10-34, suicide is the leading cause of death.
Chickasaw Nation announces new veteran center and organization
Although the VA is making efforts to expand their efforts toward Native veterans, it is the sovereign nations themselves who are making the most direct impact in their own communities. One of these major announcements was from Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby. ICTMN staff reported on May 31, 2015 that the Chickasaw Nation would build a Chickasaw Nation Veterans Lodge on the campus of their Chickasaw Nation Medical Center in Ada, Oklahoma. The 13,200 square feet lodge will serve as a meeting place and veterans facility. Anoatubby also announced the creation of a Chickasaw Warrior Society whose membership will consist of active and retired military members of Chickasaw descent.
Taos Pueblo to build VA homes
ICTMN correspondent Harlan McKosato reported on August 13, 2015 that Taos Pueblo and the VA signed an agreement on July 30 to purchase, build or renovate homes on Taos land through the VA Direct Home Loan Program. In the past, applications have been turned down throughout the country for those Native veterans who live on trust land. Now, through VA partnerships through their Office of Tribal Government Relations, over $20 million in home loans have been issued to Native veterans over the past three years. According to VA representative Mike Frueh, who signed the agreement on the federal government’s behalf, at least one-third of all Taos residents are veterans. Therefore, agreements to build on tribal trust land is a removal of a huge roadblock for Native veterans living on tribal land.
Southwest Oklahoma tribes hosting stand-down services
One of the major issues affecting veterans is a lack of information on what services are available to them. Veteran stand-downs that host federal, state and tribal services in one central location provide those opportunities for veterans to get vital information. On October 16, the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes hosted the area tribes of southwest Oklahoma in a second annual stand-down at Clinton, Oklahoma.
The event kicked off with a combined color guard that featured the Oklahoma Inter-Tribal Veterans Association Buddy Bond Chapter and the Kiowa Black Leggings Society. Services included information on housing, burial assistance, substance abuse, suicide prevention, clothing for homeless veterans, and health care. The event culminated in a catered lunch that served 208 veterans and their family members who were in attendance. Out of the 208 veterans in attendance, 47 veterans were female and 12 were widows of veterans.
NMAI plans for a Native veteran memorial on the National Mall
On October 20 during the NCAI annual convention, National Museum of the American Indian director Kevin Gover announced plans for a Native veteran memorial that would be unveiled on the National Mall on Veterans Day 2019. With a $15 million fundraising campaign, pledges are already being made from tribes to complete the project. Congressional approval to create the project started in 1994. However, there were stipulations that kept the project from having any fruitful development. According to Gover, these roadblocks included an indoor-only memorial and the use of NCAI as the primary fund-raising entity. A bill sponsored by Congressman and Cherokee Nation member Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) pushed aside the roadblocks that would instead place the memorial outdoors on the National Mall and approve NMAI as the primary fundraiser. This particular bill was signed into law by President Obama on December 26, 2013.