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Tribal leaders discuss care for Native American Veterans

VA’s Tribal and Indian Affairs Advisory Committee (TAC) kicked off 2024 with a 3-day meeting at Choctaw National Headquarters in Durant, OK.

The TAC is made up of 15 members from different Tribal Nations across the U.S. and a member who represents Native Hawaiian Veterans. The TAC met to discuss a wide range of topics about issues critical to the American Indian/Alaska Native and Hawaiian Native Veteran populations.

“The purpose of the committee is to provide advice and guidance to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on all matters relating to Indian tribes, tribal organizations, Native Hawaiian organizations and Native American Veterans,” said Mary Culley, tribal government relations specialist. “This includes advising the Secretary on the administration of health care services and if VA is meeting the needs of tribal Veterans.”

“We ensure our health care needs are addressed.”

Committee members heard from Choctaw Nation senior leaders and other VA officials.  “Our committee advocates for the needs of American Native Veterans,” said Sonya M. Tetnowski, Makah Tribe, TAC Committee chair and chief executive director for the Indian Health Care Center. “We are the voice to ensure we are being represented and our VA health care needs are heard and addressed.”

The committee took a tour of the Choctaw Nation Healthcare Center in Talihina, OK, and visited VA staff and toured the campus of the Sam Rayburn Memorial Veterans Center in Bonham, TX.

“It’s important for our committee members to see firsthand the facilities providing care to our Veterans,” said Culley.

“I enjoy getting together as a committee to discuss issues with the goal of making lives better for our native Veterans,” said Kevin Meeks, deputy secretary for the Department of Health, Chickasaw Nation. “VA Secretary Denis McDonough has done a great job of taking our feedback and implementing those ideas within VA.”

During the meeting, the committee discussed a wide range of topics, including Native American Direct Loan Program, VA homeless program, suicide prevention, women’s domestic violence program, Tribal Veteran Service Officer Representation, Claims Clinic Events in Indian Country and VA’s Office of Connected Care.

TAC meetings are open to the public with a public comment opportunity.  

“Attending this meeting has opened my eyes to the needs of Native American Veterans,” said Larue Guoladdle, Kiowa Tribe member and Kiowa Veterans director. “We need to connect with VA and build partnerships. Many Native Americans are not aware of the benefits and services available to them and our tribal community truly benefits from this type of engagement.”

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