VA expands outreach to Hawaiians, American Indians, Alaska Nativ - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

VA expands outreach to Hawaiians, American Indians, Alaska Natives

WASHINGTON (HawaiiNewsNow) – The Department of Veterans Affairs has created a new Office of Tribal Government Relations to ensure the more than 200,000 veterans who are Hawaiian Natives, American Indians, Alaska Natives, or are part of the Alaska Native Corporations receive the VA benefits they have earned.

"There is a long, distinguished tradition of military service among tribal peoples," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "VA is committed to providing these Veterans with the full range of VA programs, as befits their service to our nation."

About 200,000 veterans are represented by the 800 tribal governments officially recognized by the United States.  Although VA has long provided benefits to veterans in tribal lands, the new office will further strengthen and expand that relationship.

Stephanie Elaine Birdwell, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation from Oklahoma, has been selected as the office's first director. A former social worker, she has spent nearly 15 years working on tribal issues with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and, most recently, the Bureau of Indian Education.

She will oversee a six-person office responsible for "establishing, maintaining and coordinating a nation-to-nation, federal-tribal relationship," according to the VA.

The office has a charter that officially extends to veterans who are American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and Alaska Native Corporations.

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