Tribal communities throughout the state are calling on Congress for more money to help American Indian veterans.
Representatives from the state’s various tribal communities said veterans need more counselors to help them navigate through the complicated and often slow process of filing for their benefits.
"Right now, we know that there are not enough certified veterans benefits counselors to assist Native Americans," said Rep. Albert Tom, D-Chambers. "This will be our first attempt to bring together tribal leaders, city, county and state officials to be one voice to Congress."
During an hourlong news conference Wednesday, many of the speakers said American Indian veterans are either unaware that they are entitled to certain benefits or have become frustrated with the process.
Veterans are entitled to numerous types of benefits which include medical as well as financial compensation in certain cases.
Phillip Quochytewa, commissioner of the Arizona Veterans Service Advisory Commission, said he would like enough money to hire three counselors to help in the state’s rural areas.
Now, many American Indian veterans living in the less-populated areas of the state must make long drives to see what few counselors there are, he said.
Quochytewa said the average salary for a counselor is about $43,000, but that does not include benefits.
While hiring three counselors would be a start, Quochytewa said the state would still need more help for its veterans in the future.
There are 18 benefits counselors for the state’s 600,000 veterans, said Patrick Chorpenning, director of the Arizona Department of Veterans Services and military affairs policy advisor to the governor.
He said there should be about one counselor for every 5,000 veterans, but offered one for every 10,000 as a "workable solution."
He added that American Indians have a higher percentage of men and women joining the military than any other minority in the country.
There are about 180,000 American Indian veterans in the country.