For over 200 years, Native Americans have played a vital role in the armed forces, yet today they are at a greater disadvantage when they return home than other veterans. A 2012 report released by the Department of Veterans Affairs reported that 7.1 percent of Native American veterans were unemployed, as opposed to only 4.9 percent of all other races.
Similarly, the report noted 36.4 percent of veterans of Native American heritage suffered from one or more disabilities — as opposed to only 26.2 percent of veterans of all other races. Furthermore, homelessness affects Native American veterans at a greater rate than veterans of other races.
Finding the Right Initiative
Tribal governments have noticed these disparities and are working to improve the conditions Native American veterans face. Coordinating tribal veterans’ initiatives has become an important topic in the past few years, and Native American leaders are looking to the efforts of other initiatives, both private and federal, to see which programs actually make a difference. Someone with the right skill-set can research these successful initiatives and advise Native American leaders how to adapt them to meet tribal needs.
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), for instance, reports that Native Americans have served in higher numbers in the armed forces than any other race. This congress supports initiatives with the federal government to ensure Native American veterans’ programs can deliver the benefits and services they are responsible for.
The NCAI Veterans Committee
The NCAI has also developed the NCAI Veterans Committee, which meets yearly to discuss important veterans’ issues that relate directly to Native Americans, such as service memorials. The NCAI also manages initiatives to help Native American tribal governments secure access to Veteran Treatment Courts and Veteran Service Offices.
In addition to the NCAI’s work on behalf of Native American veterans, both the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs have acknowledged the need for more rigorous work eradicating issues Native veterans face. One of the most glaring and important issues at hand is Native American veteran homelessness.
The VA and HUD awarded 26 tribal governments vouchers to help Native American leadership communities properly care for their veterans. The vouchers amounted to just under $6 million, which will aid tribal governments in combating homelessness among their veterans.
Building Partnerships for Benefits
The VA is also ready and willing to foster partnerships with tribal governments to ensure that veterans of Native descent receive all of the benefits they are entitled to, which includes disability compensation, healthcare, education and even job training. Many veterans are unaware that these benefits are available; a partnership between the VA and tribal governments can help educate veterans on their full list of entitlements.
Initiatives like these are just the beginning. Veterans’ affairs have always been an important topic, and both private and federal agencies are realizing the specific needs of Native American veterans. However, many other issues like trauma-induced mental illness (e.g., PTSD and depression) still receive little attention.
There is still a lot of work for tribal leaders to do to take full advantage of the initiatives at their disposal. Working in conjunction with established resources to assist their veterans is the most programmatic and inclusive approach leaders can take to reversing the problems their Native veterans face.
Learn more about the SOSU online MBA with an emphasis in Native American Leadership program.