By Debbie Gregory.
On July 20, 2016, the VA issued a proposed rule to amend part 14 of title 38, Code of Federal Regulations, to provide for the recognition of tribal organizations that are established and funded by tribal governments. The amendment would allow representatives of the organizations to assist Native American veterans and their families in the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of their VA benefit claims.
Native Americans serve in the military among the highest rate, per capita, compared to other groups.
For more than a year, the VA’s Office of Tribal Government Relations (OTGR) and Office of General Counsel (OGC) have worked together to implement this rule change.
“This rule is a positive step forward for Indian Country and VA,” said Reyn Leno, Vietnam Veteran and chairman of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. “For decades, tribes with accredited facilities have been able to provide quality services to our Native American Veterans and Veterans alike. The piece that was missing was the ability to provide assistance on VA benefit claims. This rule recognizes the unique relationship our tribes have with our federal government and Veterans in some of our most rural communities. No Veteran should have to drive hundreds of miles to receive care they could be eligible to receive next door at a tribal facility. The ability to credential tribal employees as VSOs will also help to further extend services to Native Veterans in a culturally appropriate manner. I applaud the rule and VA for their due diligence on this matter.”
Receiving VA accreditation is not an easy process, as the VA must ensure that all accredited VSOs can provide long-term, quality representation. As such, tribal organizations must meet the same stringent requirements as national and state VSOs. OTGR can assist with tribal applications before they are sent to OGC, which makes the final approval.
The VA invites all interested tribal organizations to consider beginning the process of becoming a VSO. For more information, visit https://www.va.gov/ogc/accreditation.asp.