New Mexico advocates help American Indians with veterans benefits

Albuquerque, New Mexico (AP) 10-07

American Indian military veterans now have 21 fellow Indians to help them when they try to get veterans’ benefits.

The 21 were certified during October by the National Association of County Veterans Service Officers to help American Indian vets through bureaucratic mazes.

State Veterans Services Secretary John Garcia said it’s the first effort in the country to train American Indians to help their own deal with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The state Department of Veterans Services lists at least 5,600 American Indian veterans living in New Mexico.

“Native Americans serve at a higher percentage rate than any other ethnic group in the country,” Garcia said. “But they also have the lowest percentage of vets who are filing claims,” for veterans services.

Though they’ve served side by side with other troops since the Revolutionary War, American Indians often have a harder time obtaining veterans benefits when they return home.

Graduate Clyde B. Tenorio, a disabled Army veteran, said that when he returned home to Santo Domingo Pueblo after serving 18 months in Vietnam, he found a surprising number of World War II veterans who were unaware they qualified for benefits from the VA.

“Nobody ever told them,” he said. “I know what they went through. I know they all suffered. And I wanted to help them.”

Garcia said he hopes other states will follow New Mexico’s example and reach out to American Indian veterans.

But as a Vietnam veteran, Garcia understands the obstacles.

“It took me 30 years to go to the VA,” he told the graduates.