Native American veterans and their families convened at Isleta Resort & Casino for a conference that focused on educating and assisting veterans in regards to veterans rights, entitlements and benefits. The second annual Southwest Native American Veterans Association (SWNAVA) Conference was held Sept. 20-22 in Isleta, NM.
“I’m humbled and proud to look at all the veterans faces today … all first Americans of many tribes,” Isleta Pueblo Governor E. Paul Torres said. “Hopefully this gathering will address the greatest issues facing veterans and provide solutions to these problems.”
Representatives from health care providers, and veteran organizations gathered for the conference to help educate veterans on services available to them.
Jeff Wilson, from Phoenix Regional VA Loan Center discussed the Native American Direct Loan Mortgage program. The loan program is designed to help Native American veterans receive funding for housing. Wilson discussed the low rate of applications he has been receiving.
“Last year we sent out 55 loan applications,” Wilson said. “ And we only got back four.”
Some veterans stated that Native American’s don’t like paper work and the application is probably so long it discourages them from finishing it.
“Resolutions to the problems is what we veterans are looking for,” Southern Ute veteran and SWNAVA board member, Howard Richards said.
Wilson said he would continue to work with tribes to find a tribal contact to help tribal members complete the home loan applications. But he said, he has trained tribes on the how to complete the application before, but since a lot of the positions are not permanent he’s having to train new people every year.
Health was another main focus of the conference. On Monday, Sept. 21 there was a presentation on Vietnam and Agent Orange. With the majority of the veterans at the conference having served in the Vietnam War, the presentation had a lot of interest.
Elizabeth Bowers spouse of lifetime member of the Vietnam Veterans of America, talked about the barrels of toxins that were used to spray villages.
“The government knew it was toxic and they knew it was bad for you … some veterans were affected right away and some 40 years later,” Bowers said.
Bowers went on to discuss the list of symptoms associated with Agent Orange and how it is affecting children and grandchildren of those who served in Vietnam.
“If a veteran is registered with the VA and was in the war and his child has effects from Agent Orange, the child is able to get VA benefits,” she said.
All the diseases and conditions of Agent Orange are listed on the VA website, and they’re all presumptive, she said.
“If you have symptoms or an illness that is listed and you served in Vietnam, you are eligible for VA benefits,” she said.
Closing out the conference was a marching in of all veterans with the respective flags and an honoring ceremony by Southern Ute veterans Rod Grove and Howard Richards.
Richards and Grove presented Isleta Pueblo Governor Torres a vest on behalf of the Southern Ute Veterans Association as a token of appreciation for hosting this year’s second annual conference. The Isleta Pueblo Council also received pins from the Southern Ute Veterans Association.