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New VA Center in Sequoyah County Expands Health Care Capabilities in NE Okla

America’s veterans, including many Cherokee men and women, committed a portion of their lives to preserve our collective freedoms. They deserve the best possible health care we, as a country, can provide. I am proud the Oklahoma Veterans Commission recently selected the city of Sallisaw, a community in the heart of the Cherokee Nation, for a new state veterans center in Oklahoma. The planned veterans center in Sequoyah County will be located on a 90-acre plot on Sallisaw’s south side for easy accessibility. It will be a great complement to our Redbird Smith Health Center, located nearby.

In fact, the commission’s selection of Sallisaw for the new center will be an excellent addition to the wide range of health advances and investments Cherokee Nation has already made throughout northeastern Oklahoma. We’ve expanded and built new clinics across our 14 counties. Next year we will dedicate a new, 469,000-square-foot health care facility at the W.W. Hastings campus in Tahlequah, and we’ve secured an agreement with the OSU School of Medicine to launch the first-ever medical school on tribal land.

The center is a relocation from Talihina to Sallisaw. The commission could have selected many terrific locations from across our great state, but they chose to be right here in Cherokee Nation. That’s not by accident. Our corporate arm, Cherokee Nation Businesses, stepped up to make investments that made relocation to Sequoyah County viable and attractive for such a move. The leadership of Cherokee Nation Tribal Council members E.O. Smith and Bryan Warner was essential to help form the alliances that made this possible. This outcome is a model for how public-private-tribal partnerships should work. Successful partnerships like this one will only make our entire region stronger and healthier.

The brand-new facility will be constructed and opened within three to five years and will employ about 275 people, adding a large number of quality jobs that will support economic growth and add to the area’s tax base. Cherokee Nation’s Career Services Department will lend its support to recruit and fulfill the new center’s workforce needs. We know the people of Sallisaw will embrace this new opportunity and be warm and welcoming not just to the veterans and veterans’ families, but to the center’s employees and their families as well.

It is my honor to say that Cherokee Nation supports veterans through many means. Our Cherokee Nation Veterans Center provides a place for veterans of all eras to gather for fellowship. Employees there assist veterans in accessing necessary Veterans Administration benefits. The Cherokee Nation and VA hospitals have an agreement to provide better care for Native veterans by providing primary care and sharing chart information. We provide veterans across our region access to healthy food via a unique partnership with the Eastern Oklahoma Food Bank. Cherokee veterans are honored monthly during Tribal Council meetings, and our annual Cherokee Warrior Flight takes Cherokee veterans to Washington, D.C., to see the memorials built in their honor.

It’s exciting to see our vision at Cherokee Nation for healthier citizens and communities, especially for veterans, is shared by others. We welcome the new VA center at Sallisaw with open hearts and open arms.

Bill John Baker is the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.

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