Serving Native American Veterans
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Native Americans represent one of many significant populations in the veteran community. The Veterans Affairs (VA) office notes that American Indians and Alaska Natives have one of the highest representations in the armed forces and the National Indian Council on Aging adds that Native people have the highest per-capita involvement of any population to serve in the U.S. military. They also have a higher concentration of women servicemembers than all other groups. However, they go on to note that American Indian and Alaska Native veterans have lower incomes, lower educational attainment and higher unemployment than veterans of other races. They are also more likely to lack health insurance and have a disability, service-connected or otherwise, than veterans of other races. About 19 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native veterans had a service-connected disability rating in 2010, compared with 16 percent of veterans of all other races.
The National Veterans’ Training Institute (NVTI) offers resources to help veteran service professionals acquire a better understanding of how to assist the Native American veteran population. First, there are courses taught through NVTI that cover this topic area. Recently, the course, 9608: DVOP Specialists Core Competency Development, was updated to detail the important issue of supplying quality care to this population. This update included the creation of a handbook titled Working with American Indian and Alaska Native Veterans. This resource, as well as several other resources specific to the Native American veteran population, can be found at https://www.nvti.org/ under the drop-down “Resources” and the subpage “NVTI Resources.” In 2021, NVTI will also cover this topic in a webinar and a new class.
An example of an important topic that is addressed in these new NVTI materials is strategies for building effective relationships with this special veteran population. Such strategies include:
- Meeting with the Veterans Director and local Career One-Stop on the reservation. Each tribe has its own Veteran Director – the DVOP specialist will need to build a rapport with the tribe’s Veterans Director before doing any work on the reservation. After meeting with the Veteran Director, it is important for the DVOP specialist to consistently communicate with the Veteran Director and local Career One-Stop. The DVOP specialist interaction with the Veteran Director and the local Career One-Stop can result in significant information about the community.
- Identifying a Trusted Community Person. Tribes are diverse; there are more than 565 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Native communities in the United States, each with its own culture, history, language, spiritual practices, and form of government. A local community leader can assist the DVOP specialist to understand each tribe. Education of the specific culture in which the DVOP specialist is interacting is imperative to appreciate the specific belief system and better understand how one might best collaborate with the veteran. The community leader should also be familiar with veteran organizations and veteran serving programs. This will assist the DVOP specialist by making the connection between the community and available veteran resources.
- Showing Respect to the Community. To display respect to tribes, be consistent in your support, create opportunities, and be willing to listen and learn. Be mindful to minimize personnel turnover – this will ensure the relationship continuity and increase trust in the community with the DVOP specialist. Always keep meetings and show up ahead of time prepared for meetings. This is will show your commitment to the community and enthusiasm in the process of building sustained support.
Outside of NVTI, there are many other resources that assist with Native American veteran occupational and training support, such as:
- The Division of Indian and Native American Programs (DINAP) Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Section 166 grantees and the Department of Labor (DOL) share a vision to provide quality employment and training services to tribes, tribal organizations, Alaska Native entities, Indian controlled organizations and Native Hawaiian organizations serving unemployed and low income Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. The section 166 programs are designed to support employment and training activities to fully develop the academic, occupational and literacy skills; make individuals more competitive in the workforce; and promote economic and social development in harmony with the goals and values of the communities. These programs are administered in ways that both meet regulatory requirements and are consistent with the traditional cultural values and beliefs of the people they are designed to serve.
- Further, Workforce GPS offers an Indian and Native American Program Community that includes a webpage for the Grantee Performance Management System (GPMS), the new web-based system for the Division of Indian and Native American Programs (DINAP).
- The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs also offers awareness of job opportunities for Native American veteran populations that desire to work for the federal government or for an organization that is closely associated with the federal government. The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs works closely with the Council for Tribal Employment Rights to support the recruiting, hiring, and retaining of Native American veterans. Both sites offer resources and contacts for further assistance.
- The VA consults with American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments to develop partnerships that enhance access to services and benefits for veterans and their families. One way they maintain their commitment to ensuring that Native American Veterans and their families are able to use all benefits and services they are entitled to receive is to maintain a website specific to Native American Veterans and their various VA benefits. According to a VA report, American Indian and Alaska Native Veterans who used at least one Veterans Affairs benefit or service grew from 28.9 percent in 2005 to 41.6 percent in 2017. With continued outreach, training, and accessibility to resources, the struggles that Native American veterans face every day will continue to minimize in the future.
NVTI continues to add to the conversation on this topic at the “Making Careers Happen for Veterans Community of Practice” under the topic “Serving Special Populations, Serving Native American Veterans.” All NVTI students have the ability to view and be a part of this conversation. To do so, log on to your NVTI Student Central account. Then, look for the “Links to Collaboration Spaces” widget and click the link. Finally, click the “Topics” button, then the “Special Veteran Populations” folder.