Chief’s Column: Veterans’ Advocates Make a Difference
Our Choctaw veterans are courageous warriors–tvshka–who have defended this land through centuries of battles.
There are approximately 1.3 million men and women on active duty, with 200,000 of them stationed overseas.
Reports also show that 140,000 Native Americans are veterans, with 31,000 active.
Native Americans have the highest percentage of veterans serving post-9/11 than veterans of other ethnicities.
Many of our country’s veterans have sacrificed much on foreign soil and at home as they face disabilities and hardships.
Some of these men and women who were once pillars of strength may occasionally need to borrow from our strengths as issues arise.
The Choctaw Nation Veterans Advocacy program consists of a small group of dedicated associates who focus on assisting veterans.
Senior Director of Community Services Kevin Hamil, Deputy Director of Veterans Advocacy Roger Hamill, Harlan Wright, Michael Robbins and Samantha Johnson administers an array of services for men and women who are currently serving or have served our country in the military.
The department assists with Veterans Affairs claims, applications and referrals. Roger, Harlan, and Michael are accredited through the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs which gives them quick access to much-needed information from the VA.
The team also sends care packages quarterly during the year, mailing to any soldier in an IRS-designated war zone. They assist family members who bring care packages to the Veterans Advocacy department, shipping them at no cost to the family. That soldier is then added to the Veterans Advocacy mailing list.
Another way we can help those who are currently in combat is to donate our old cell phones to Cell Phones for Soldiers.
The no-longer-needed mobile phones can be dropped off for recycling at the Veterans Advocacy office at the Choctaw Nation headquarters in Durant.
Since 2004, Cell Phones for Soldiers has recycled more than 15 million cell phones, reducing the impact on landfills and providing soldiers more than 300 million minutes of free time for talking to loved ones.
The Choctaw Nation Color Guard, another service of Veterans Advocacy, consists of veterans who take part in ceremonies and events around the United States.
They have participated in 101 events so far this year, including funerals, pow wows, tribal events, and commemorative ceremonies.
The Color Guard will post colors, provide a 21-gun salute and play taps during the Choctaw Nation Veterans Ceremony, Saturday, Nov. 10, at Tvshka Homma.
The annual ceremony is one of my favorite events of the year. It gives us all a chance to show our respect as we honor our Choctaw veterans and say, “Yakoke” for their service.
Veterans Advocacy will also be presenting gifts to the Choctaw veterans attending the ceremony. This year, they are giving away a vest and beanie for the cooler weather.
Two of the Veterans Advocacy associates, Harlan and Michael, are also veterans and members of the Color Guard.
Since he was a little kid, Michael wanted to be in the Army because his grandpa, dad, and uncle were. He joined in 2008 and was stationed in Kentucky, Colorado, and California as an M1A2 Abrams (tank) crewmember. While in Iraq, Michael was on mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles.
One of Michael’s most memorable moments was Christmas 2010. The whole platoon ate together that morning because they were the only people scheduled for missions.
They ate, then returned to the tents to open gifts. They were limited on what they could get, but Michael says it wasn’t really about the gifts.
It was more about trying to make the moment as normal as they could in a place so far from home. He received two phone cards and was very excited about it because he had not been able to call home in a while.
Things are put into perspective when you hear from a young veteran that one of the best gifts he has ever received was just a phone card.
Harlan joined the Marine Corps and served eight years, his first term from 2001 to 2005 and his second from 2007-2011. His father was also a Marine.
He was stationed primarily at Camp Pendleton in California, with one deployment to Japan.
Harlan was a heavy equipment operator who helped build runways and helicopter pads while attached to the Marine wing unit, as well as operating forklifts. He also built roads while attached to the 7th Engineer Support Battalion.
We are blessed to have a group who enjoys being able to assist other veterans. They have an opportunity to help them understand the benefits available to them and their spouses, and to try to obtain benefits for them equal to what other veterans are receiving.
Veterans Advocacy has partnered with KI BOIS in southeast Oklahoma to offer services to veterans in need.
Many veterans who once put their lives on the line to ensure our homes were protected are now homeless. The Choctaw Nation and Ki BOIS provide emergency stays in hotels and strive to assist veterans and their families transition from homelessness to permanent housing. The program also assists with fuel and food vouchers for at-risk veterans.
It is rewarding to know they have helped change the person’s life in a positive way and want to do more. They are asking veterans to complete a small survey when they visit the department to continue identifying needed services.
Yakoke to our Veterans Advocacy team for showing the Chahta spirit and helping make a difference. Please log on to ChoctawNation.com for more information on Veterans Advocacy.