(Photo above: ODVA Acting Director Mitch Sparks meets with Warm Springs Tribal Council Chair Eugene Greene Jr. | courtesy of Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs)
The Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) this week that will enable the tribal government to establish the state’s first-ever tribal veteran service office.
Once established, the tribal veteran service office will operate similar to a county veteran service office, providing direct services to tribal veterans under ODVA’s power of attorney. Like all county veteran service officers, the tribal veteran service officers will be trained and certified through ODVA.
This is the first state-tribal partnership of this kind in Oregon’s history.
“This is something we’ve been working toward for many years,” ODVA Acting Director Mitch Sparks said. “The reason we have veteran service offices in each county is that we recognize each county has their own unique challenges, resources and culture, and we believe veterans are best served in and through their own communities. The same is true, and even more so, for our tribal veterans.
“We believe this new partnership will allow tribal veteran service officers in Warm Springs to provide the same level of service as any county veteran service officer, while advocating for their own people.”
Terry Bentley, Pacific District tribal government specialist with the VA Office of Tribal Government Relations, said her agency was excited about the new partnership.
“This MOU will enable veterans to receive increased access to services and benefits on the reservation by trusted tribal representatives who are more culturally sensitive,” she said.
The announcement was also well-received by Oregon’s elected officials.
“As the daughter of a veteran, I know first-hand how critical the needs are for our service men and women, and their families,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said. “I am absolutely thrilled about this new partnership that ensures the veterans of the Warm Springs Tribe will be able to access the vital services and benefits they’ve earned.”
“The memorandum of understanding represents a major accomplishment for veterans everywhere,” said Rep. Paul Evans, chair of the House Interim Committee on Veterans and Emergency Preparedness. “This approach will be the first of what I hope will be many such partnerships empowering tribal veteran service officers and yielding tremendous benefit to Native American military families and veterans.”
ODVA will work closely with the Tribal Council of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to develop and implement this new office. An anticipated opening date has not yet been set.