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Newly sworn-in Veteran Advisory Council members. L to R: George Tolth, Vern R. Lee, President Russell Begaye, Vice President Jonathan Nez, Candice Pioche-Zunie and Olin Kieyoomia.

FT. DEFIANCE – Today, four Navajo Nation Veterans Advisory Council members were sworn-in during a meeting of the advisory council which took place at the NHA White Shell Conference Room.

The members sworn-in were: Vern R. Lee and Candice Pioche-Zunie both from the Shiprock Agency, Olin Kieyoomia from the Ft. Defiance Agency and George Tolth from the Eastern Agency.

Both President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez attended the swearing in and thanked the veterans for their willingness to serve on the advisory council.

The president addressed the lack of a permanent director for the Navajo Nation Veterans Administration (NNVA) stating that he realizes the urgency of putting someone into that position.  President Begaye told the council that he is currently reviewing applicants for the director position.

He called upon members of the advisory council and the NNVA to remain vigilant in observing issues that affect them.

“We need each of you to track and review legislations pertaining to veterans’ issues at the state level in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah,” President Begaye told the advisory council. “Many of these legislations are beneficial to us and we need to be aware of how they will impact our veterans and their benefits.”

Vice President Nez also thanked the veterans for their service on the council and said the Office of the President and Vice President (OPVP) will continue to work to promote the health and wellness of Navajo Veterans.

“A lot of work has been done on behalf of our veterans, and I’d like to thank both the NNVA and the Advisory Council for continuing to do all they can to ensure that benefits and services are continually provided to our Navajo Veterans,” Vice President Nez said.

President Begaye provided a brief update on the FY 2018 budget letting the veterans know that the potential closing of Navajo Generating Station (NGS) will have critical impacts on the upcoming budget discussions.

OPVP Chief of Staff, Arbin Mitchell reminded the group that although last year’s financial scenario was similar in regards to the FY 2017 budget formulation, the NNVA budget incurred no cuts.

“Looking at this year, it doesn’t look good,” Chief Mitchell said in suggesting that possibly all divisions will have to consider percentage cuts to their budgets.

“Chief Mitchell is correct in stating that last year we didn’t cut the Veteran’s budget. Probably by the first of July, we will have the FY 2018 budget formulated,” President Begaye said. “This coming year’s budget is similar in that we could see a shortage of 18 percent resulting from the decommissioning of NGS. We are working hard to address these issues.”

Acting Executive Director of NNVA, Hubert Smith called upon the representatives from the various Navajo Veteran’s Agencies to work together to keep progress moving forward.

“We learned in the military that if we don’t stand together, we could potentially fall apart as an organization,” Smith said. “President Begaye is here seeking our advisement and we need to work with him. That is our biggest priority.”

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