Native American veterans from across the southwest came together at the 3rd annual Southwest Native American Veterans Association (SWNAVA) Regional Conference. The conference is held annually to promote the voices, concerns and needs of Native veterans. This year, Southern Ute tribal veterans Raymond Baker, Dr. James Jefferson and Rod Grove represented the tribe at the annual conference. Southern Ute veterans have consistently attend the conference to network, hear updates and voice their own concerns.
The SWNAVA Conference took place on Friday, Sept. 23 at the New Mexico Army National Guard Armory in Albuquerque, N.M. The conference began with a town hall meeting setting – giving veterans a chance to ask questions directly to the VA Regional Office, Albuquerque Veterans Hospital, the New Mexico Department of Indian Affairs and Veterans Services.
Some concerns from veterans brought up included benefits for widows and spouses of Native veterans, training for caretakers of veterans, as well as the need for programs to help homeless Native veterans.
“Look at the veteran first,” Governor of the Pueblo of Tesuque Rick Vigil said. “Our efforts have to be on building that relationship … we have to bring our veterans the services that they need.”
Since the theme of the conference did focus on the use of technology for veterans benefits, the breakout sessions were centered on explaining and showing veterans how to sign up for benefits online and how technology is speeding up what used to be long wait times.
Storage buildings blocks long filled with filing cabinets are what use to house claims for veterans’ disability benefits, Cesar Romero of the Albuquerque VA Regional Office told a group of Native veterans.
Now, the Veterans Benefits Administration is utilizing the new National Work Queue, which allows employees around the country to help other busy regional offices process claims – leading to significantly shorter wait times, explained Romero.
“It’s a big difference; it’s amazing,” Romero said about the reduction in backlog claims due to the use of the National Work Queue.
Though the focus was on the use of technology, veterans also heard from VA directors and staff on employment and business opportunities, home loans, healthcare, and PTSD healing.
The one-day conference proved to be a busy information-filled day. Going forward the SWNAVA is looking at hosting the conference in different states across the southwest. For the association “southwest” includes states from Oklahoma westward to California and Washington.