Native Americans serve in the military among the highest rate, per capita, compared to other groups and our nations honor the place of tribal warriors in our communities and our culture on a daily basis. But for Veterans living within or near tribal communities, it can sometimes be difficult to receive representation for benefit claims.Often, these Veterans cannot reach existing Veterans Service organizations (VSOs) or may not be using them due to cultural barriers.

One way VA has tried to help with this is through a rule change in the Code of Federal Regulations (38 CFR 14.628). This change will allow eligible tribal organizations to become accredited by VA. It is believed that accredited tribal organizations can provide Veterans with better, more culturally competent services.

Over the past year, VA’s Office of Tribal Government Relations (OTGR) and Office of General Counsel (OGC) have worked together to implement this rule change.

In March 2016, letters were sent to tribal leaders, asking for their input. A notice was then placed in the Federal Register (Vol. 81, No. 47: Proposed Rules page 12626) which also asked for comments and provided notice of tribal consultation. The comment period closed in April of 2016. In July 2016, a subsequent notice in the Federal Register (Vol. 81, No. 47: Proposed Rules Pages 47091-47093) provided the opportunity to comment on the revised proposed rule.  This comment period closed in September of 2016.

There were more comments received from tribal leaders and Veteran advocates than was expected, showing a high level of interest in this rule change.

“This rule is a positive step forward for Indian Country and VA,” said Reyn Leno, Vietnam Veteran and chairman of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.  “For decades, tribes with accredited facilities have been able to provide quality services to our Native American Veterans and Veterans alike. The piece that was missing was the ability to provide assistance on VA benefit claims. This rule recognizes the unique relationship our tribes have with our federal government and Veterans in some of our most rural communities. No Veteran should have to drive hundreds of miles to receive care they could be eligible to receive next door at a tribal facility. The ability to credential tribal employees as VSOs will also help to further extend services to Native Veterans in a culturally appropriate manner. I applaud the rule and VA for their due diligence on this matter.”

Tribal Nations serve Veterans first. We open our ceremonies and carry the flags of our nations. Today, there are around 1,600 living Chickasaw Veterans. Most of these men and women are Veterans of Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan.  Most of our WWII Veterans have now passed on and our Korean War Veteran numbers are rapidly dwindling.

But receiving VA accreditation is not an easy process. VA must ensure, as legally required, that all accredited VSOs can provide long-term, quality representation.  As such, tribal organizations must meet the same stringent requirements as national and state VSOs. OTGR can assist with tribal applications before they are sent to OGC, which makes the final approval.

VA invites all interested tribal organizations to consider beginning the process of becoming a VSO. For more information, please visit VA’s website by clicking here.

On a daily basis active duty members become Veterans and too many Veterans return home to find that their greatest challenges still lie ahead. War is ugly and it has long lasting effects that challenges the resilience of all people.

The tribal nations are committed to finding the path for our Veterans to become tribal leaders, teachers, business owners, active citizens and successful parents.  We work closely with the OTGR and have established a good relationship with this important VA office.  I invite other tribes to connect with OTGR as well, as they begin the road to becoming accredited VSOs. The ability to work with local, trusted qualified representatives to file for benefits our Veterans have earned through their service can make a world of difference in the Veteran and their family’s overall quality of life. I look forward to seeing tribal nations begin to support their warriors through this effort to serve those who have selflessly and courageously served our nation.

About the authors: Jefferson Keel is  Lt. Governor of the Chickasaw Nation and former president of National Congress of American Indians. Peter Vicaire is with the VA Office of Tribal Government Relations.

Share this story

Published on Jan. 31, 2017

Estimated reading time is 3.6 min.

Views to date: 226


  1. Pest Control February 5, 2017 at 10:35 pm

    Thanks so much for this article we are very happy heard this information. We wish veterans get a better life

  2. Vincent W. Unrue February 3, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    I am 1/4 Seneca, I applaud any actions on behalf
    of my brothers!

  3. Clio Joseph Pedersen February 3, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    As an American Caucasian growing up next to a reservation in South Dakota and living for twenty three years; the American Indians born and raised in this; our country (United States of America) are the only folks that have been discriminated against in my lifetime. Look back in history and see just how bad they were cornered up and put on public land “Reservations” and nearly forgot about. Today, the rich people have put Casinos throughout many reservations, gauging what monies tribal councils warrant or allow them too! If I could recommend anything to our Congressional folks in Washington, DC to do; it would be to have one introduce legislation recognize the American Indian with a NATIONAL Holiday recognizing who the Pilgrims first sat down with a broke bread.

  4. Jay Skinner February 3, 2017 at 2:46 pm

    This looks good considering the negative news considering helping VA patients and hospitals. I am a Veterane and retired service member. Thank fully I have no pressing health issues accept my hearing from military service. I am still hearing how bad VA is at helping those in need, such as that gunman in Florida Airport that VA failed to help.

  5. John Cianteo February 3, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    I’m disabled Vietnam Vet, February 68 in/out to December 69. My dad and 5 uncles WWII, all came home. Uncle Korea wounded, made it home. I Vietnam, our daughter a CWO-3, US ARMY RESERVE Blackhawk pilot, FT Hood, one year tour Middle East. Lucky family all of us made it home. So many didn’t.
    My interest, I’m plugged into VA daily reports, notice Native American. Year ago, I sent a DNA, results I’m 10%, mixed DNA, 41% European, with 43% of my results??? All of my moms side via Southern Indiana, verbally trace back to 1700
    WOW, I’m still amazed. My Romanian born grandparents, she referred to herself as a Gypsy from the low lands. Grandfather blonde blue eyes, born raised the mountains and foothills of Russian Romanian border. He couldn’t read or write, spoke Romanian, Russian, German, Hungarian, and
    Some Hebrew. He was hunter fisherman who knows how many generations? His family traded with many people’s, had to learn how to deal with people. No internet for a quickie catch-up. She had coal black hair olive skin, raised nine kids in a different world. At 40, grandfather quit, “i old man I die soon”. He waited another 42yrs for that. Anyway, maybe you can point me where I need to go. Only track back to that Indiana area, mom’s dad Syester, German, 1700s. Not to many white ladies hanging around the drug store? European men have no Hang up with Indian women, common then. Pa 1 of 12 his dad married twice, first one died. Pa raised deep Indiana southern forests, still areas no man has ever been yet. Pa lived woods to many kids in small log home. He and brothers traded meat, wild herbs, and fish for what they needed, 5th grade education, a wiz with mathematics sad, who knows? He taught me all the ways and what’s safe and what kills. I made snare traps, rabbit traps, squirrels are easy to trap. Ever kind of fish mostly Channel cat fish. Birds everywhere. Woods have changed in Indiana, wild razor back hogs and hybrids here now. Coywolfs have been spotted, a hybrid grey wolf and coyotes mixed, a smart bold strong critter out there. Muchroom hunters caution, never go alone, carry a good knife and rope handy. Be smart, loud noises may run them off. Thanks for this peep hole into where I have to go. The DNA people want a fee for even assistance. None of that back ground fee garbage is brought out from kick off, poor business ethics. Oh well we all have to make a buck thanks again

  6. Junk Bin February 3, 2017 at 11:38 am

    wonderful, why do not white male vets have their own special reps????? every other group have a spercial this and than. I thought that special treatment was discrimination and illegal under federal law

  7. David S Collings February 3, 2017 at 10:42 am

    Veterans from all areas need to have access to quality assistance. Living throughout the US, many lack resources to travel to major VA centers. Helping native Americans in their tribal lands is essential.

  8. Dennis Laughlin February 3, 2017 at 10:38 am

    As a VSO, I applaud this action. I live near the Pine Ridge Reservation, and grew up with Native Americans who served our country. I see familiar faces and names at the VA Healthcare facility I use. It would be my honor to assist any person or organization who chooses to become a VSO.

    • Dee February 4, 2017 at 6:20 pm

      Are u a VSO?

  9. Shopmaker, Stephen T February 3, 2017 at 10:25 am

    Wow! It is about time!

  10. fred thomas February 1, 2017 at 9:34 am

    Thank you for your information, it is always good to see how we all may help our veterans
    in their hour of need.

Comments are closed.

More Stories

  • Each year, the Veterans Day National Committee hosts the annual Veterans Day observance at Arlington National Cemetery. This year, 33 communities in 25 states and the District of Columbia will also host VA-recognized Veterans Day observances to pay tribute to America’s heroes.

  • Should brain injury caused by a blast wave from an explosion be considered distinct from a TBI caused by a physical impact?

  • The Community Catalyst Award will honor organizations for excellence in building solutions that improve experiences for the Veteran community.