Commander seeks change for local veterans

Howard Richards Sr., Commander of Southern Ute Veterans Associations, met with board members of the Colorado Division of Veterans Affairs, Thursday, June 2 at the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel in Durango, Colo. This meeting was held to discuss making more resources available to Southern Ute veterans as well as local Native and non-Native veterans in Southwest Colorado.
Commander Howard Richards Sr. identified multiple issues local veterans face and presented these issues to the Colorado Division of Veterans Affairs board members and Chairman Melvin Baker on Thursday, June 2.
Commander Howard Richards Sr. was presented with the Colorado Division of Veterans Affairs five-star coin by Director David Callahan after the conclusion of the Thursday, June 2, meeting in Durango, Colo.
Divine Windy Boy | SU Drum
Divine Windy Boy | SU Drum
Divine Windy Boy | SU Drum

The Southern Ute Veterans Association and the Colorado Division of Veterans Affairs held a meeting at the DoubleTree Hotel in Durango, Colo. on Thursday, June 2, to identify issues within the local Southwest Colorado veteran community. Southern Ute Veterans Association Commander, Howard Richards Sr. will work with Kristy Cunningham, who is the Southwest Regional Veteran Services Officer to create a presentation for the Director of the Colorado Division of Veterans Affairs David Callahan, highlighting the issues identified during the June 2 meeting to begin work on creating solutions.  

Association Commander Howard Richards Sr. is an enrolled member of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, he is also an honorably discharged Vietnam veteran having served with the Ninth Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta in 1969. Richards is also former Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council. “This meeting is a historical moment, there is not one but two Chairman present current and past,” stated Richards. “This is also the first meeting between with the Colorado Division of Veterans Affairs to my knowledge.”  

The Southern Ute Veterans Association was unofficially formed by three Vietnam combat veterans in 1983, then became official in 1986 to address the immediate needs of all veterans for their health and welfare. In an opening letter addressed to the Colorado Division of Veterans Affairs board, Richards informed the Veterans Affairs board of the Southern Ute Veterans Association’s hopes following the meeting, requesting — “More involved communication with program managers and the creation of a position on the board to represent both the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes.” Richards said. “We are feeling as though we are forgotten as the state of Colorado Indian Veterans.”  

During the meeting, issues identified included: lack of transportation for veterans, mental health awareness, no Indigenous representation within the board committee, and poor communication between veterans of the southwest region of Colorado and the Colorado Division of Veterans Affairs. In addition, Richards requested that a post be created for the Southwest Regional Veteran Services Officer, Kristy Cunningham, so that she will be available to assist veterans with necessary applications, documents and any other paperwork required to receive assistance from a state program in person. 

“Identify a location for her to come in, maybe every other week – have an office capable of connecting to the internet – and let the people know that she is there.” Richards said. “I know that Council is behind us, we will show Chairman Baker after this discussion that we are all on board to move this forward.” The presence of Cunningham on the reservation will benefit not only tribal veterans but will also benefit other native and non-native veterans within Southwest Colorado.  

Richards and Cunningham will create a presentation highlighting the issues identified during the June 2 meeting, this presentation is to be created during the week of June 13 and will then be presented to Director Callahan. Following the presentation, a future meeting will be held to discuss how the Colorado Division of Veterans Affairs will begin to address the situation and help Southwestern Colorado veterans gain access to more programs and assistance going forward.  

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