In late April, interim VA Deputy Secretary Scott Blackburn was on a mission. He wanted to hear from the Veterans of the Taos, New Mexico, region. Often seen as a juxtaposition of ideology, the men and women from the Taos Pueblo Tribe have answered the call to serve for decades. They serve in uniform for the same reasons as so many others have answered the call – for the love of country and for their people.
For those who return to their roots, obtaining optimal VA care may be difficult. That’s why Blackburn and other VA leaders sat down with members of the tribe in the Traditional Council Hall and joined their hosts in their traditional ceremonies in opening a dialog. Blackburn used the opportunity to share many of the new and on-going VA initiatives to provide Veterans with more health care choices, the modernization of outdated systems and renewed focus on leveraging resources to better serve Veterans and to improve timeliness of service.
According to VA spokeswoman Jessica B. Jacobsen, the deputy secretary wanted to visit this particular area that is known “for its traditional significance, its Veteran population and for its rural geographic location,” as reported in the Taos News.
This visit is just one of the many intergovernmental engagement and outreach activities sponsored by VA’s Tribal Government Office. According to its director, Stephanie Birdwell, visits like this one to Taos Pueblo help VA:
- Enhance access to VA services and benefits for Veterans
- Build relationships and maintain needed bonds with Tribal leaders and Veterans
- Inform and better address the unique health care needs of Veterans.
“Visits like these not only serve to highlight the government-to-government relationship that exists between the United States and Indian Tribes, but these visits also serve to cultivate mutual understanding, trust and awareness of opportunities for us to work together, at the federal and tribal government level,” Birdwell, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma with more than 20 years of Indian affairs experience. “The information and stories shared by our Veterans across Indian country helps VA effectively serve and reach our warriors once they return home to civilian life. Home for many of our Veterans may be located in rural communities, such as Taos Pueblo, that have existed since time immemorial. VA leadership wants to be informed so they can get it right on behalf of those who have stepped up to serve us all.”
For more information about the VA’s Tribal Government Office, go to https://www.va.gov/tribalgovernment/.
Stacie M. Rivera is a public affairs specialist with the Veterans Health Administation’s Office of Informatics and Information Governance.