Navajo Nation authorized to file benefit claims for veterans

July 3, 2022
Navajo Nation with American flag

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation Veterans Administration was formally recognized by the head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for being the first tribal nation program to receive accreditation to help veterans submit federal benefits claims directly to the VA.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough recognized the tribal government program’s status during a visit to Gallup on June 28.

“We’ve been negotiating this with President Nez and his team. They are the first tribe to take up this new authority,” McDonough said, referring to Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

He added this is part of the VA’s work to make sure tribal nations have a seat at the table, including having veteran service officers on tribal lands who can submit veterans’ benefits claims to the VA.

McDonough’s visit came the same week it was announced that a group of bipartisan senators ended the review process on recommendations by the VA to close outpatient clinics in several states, including those in Gallup, Española, Las Vegas and Raton.

Nez noted the accreditation achieved by the tribal government’s VA will greatly help Navajo veterans, many of whom face difficulties in traveling to VA centers outside the tribal land.

“Today marks a milestone with our partnership with the VA also our Navajo Nation VA,” Nez said.

Last month, Nez’s office announced the Navajo Nation VA met the criteria and standards to be accredited through the federal VA’s Tribal Representation Expansion Project.

There are now five Navajo Nation VA staff members accredited under the project and can process federal benefits claims for veterans, according to a release from Nez’s office.

Navajo Nation VA Director James Zwierlein told the Daily Times the employees work in the tribe’s VA offices in Shiprock; Crownpoint; Tsé Bonito; Chinle, Ariz.; and Tuba City, Ariz.

A sixth person is being trained to work in the Fort Defiance, Ariz., office, he added.

The news release stated the staff members have taken in and submitted 83 claims into the federal VA system since May 2.

In remarks at the June 28 event, Zwierlein said these claims were filed on behalf of Navajo veterans, but there are more veterans, including non-Navajo and non-Native American, in line for claims assistance.

McDonough also participated in a town hall with Nez, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández at the University of New Mexico campus in Gallup.