Native American Indians and Alaska Natives serve at five times the national average in the Armed Forces and have served with honor in every major conflict for more than 200 years.
During this Native American Heritage Month, this article looks at VA benefits available to Native American veterans and how they can apply.
In this article about VA benefits for Native Americans
- Famous Native American Veterans
- VA Disability Benefits Available to All Veterans
- Guide to VA Benefits for Native American Veterans
- Possible Future of Benefits for Native American Veteran College Students
- Does the VA Work With Tribal Governments?
- Honoring Native American Veterans
- Native American Veteran Organizations
- How Woods and Woods Can Help You
Famous Native American Veterans
Native Americans join the armed forces in large numbers: 19% of all Native Americans have served in the military (5% percent more than the average of all other ethnicities), and 20% of all Native American service members are women.
Native Americans have a long history of serving the U.S. Here are only a few stories of famous Native American veterans who made significant contributions during their service:
The Delaware tribe member who lead a risky Civil War Army Mission
A large majority of men from the Delaware tribe in Kansas and Indian Territory joined the Union Army. Out of 201 men between 18 and 45 years old, 170 volunteered for service. One of them, Black Beaver, gained great respect after leading a dangerous mission of escorting Union soldiers hundreds of miles through Confederate-occupied territory without losing “a man, horse, or wagon.”
The Oneida Indian who was awarded a World War I Distinguished Service Cross
Dr. Josiah Alvin Powless, the first Oneida Indian to graduate from medical school, volunteered for the Army’s Medical Department in 1917 and was assigned the next year to the 308th Infantry Regiment on the western front. He died while tending to wounded soldiers under heavy enemy fire just five days before the war ended. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
The Navajo who helped win World War II
During World War II, U.S. Marines of Navajo descent used their indigenous language to develop a special code for sending sensitive information. Historians say the work of the Navajo Code Talkers sped up the end of the war and saved lives.
VA Disability Benefits Available to All Veterans
The VA offers a number of monthly benefits to all veterans including:
- Disability compensation
- Individual Unemployability (IU)
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)
- Special Monthly Compensation (SMC)
They also offer pensions, health care, education and training, home loans, insurance, and funeral benefits.
To apply for VA disability benefits, you can file a claim online or by mail, or you can contact a VA-certified disability benefits attorney.
Guide to VA Benefits for Native American Veterans
Native American Direct Loan Program (NADL)
The Native American Direct Loan Program (NADL), which was established in 1992, offers loans to Native American veterans, or their Native American spouse, to buy, build, or improve a house on federal trust land. Federal trust land is a territory where one group agrees to hold title to the property for the benefit of another group.
The process begins when a veteran’s tribal or other governing body enters into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the VA.
Veterans must apply for a home loan Certificate of Eligibility (COE) to verify they meet the necessary VA eligibility requirements. Next, veterans should contact the VA regional loan center for their state to begin the NADL process of applying for a 30-year fixed-rate direct loan.
Alaska Native Veterans Land Allotment Program
The 2019 John D. Dingell, Jr., Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act gave eligible Vietnam-era veterans or their heirs a chance to apply for up to 160 acres of federal land in Alaska. The program removes a previous requirement that restricted personal use or occupancy. The land allotment program is open to all eligible Alaska Natives who served between Aug. 5, 1964, and Dec. 31, 1971. Applications will be accepted through Dec. 29, 2025.
This is the third time that federal land has been offered to Alaska Native Vietnam veterans, who did not have access to land allotments while serving during the Vietnam war. If you are an Alaskan Native veteran who meets the requirements, you can apply with this form.
VetSuccess on Campus Program (VSOC)
The VetSuccess on Campus program (VSOC) aims to help veterans, service members, and their dependents succeed in college by offering on-campus benefits and counseling. These benefits will continue through the end of their education and prepare them to enter the workforce.
The VSOC program provides a VA Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor (VRC) to each VSOC school. A VA Vet Center Outreach Coordinator is also provided to offer counseling and referral services. The VA lists all VSOC schools on the VetSuccess on Campus program page.
Possible Future of Benefits for Native American Veteran College Students
The Native VetSuccess at Tribal Colleges and Universities Pilot Program Act was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona) in April 2021. The act directs the VA to take action to assist veterans with education, employment, and housing.
The bill would require the VA to carry out a 5-year pilot program for on-campus benefits assistance and counseling at tribal colleges and universities. The program would help students who are veterans, service members, or dependents who are eligible for the VetSuccess benefits mentioned in the previous section.
At the time of publication of this article, the bill had passed in the House and was sent to the Senate, where it was assigned to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
One of our VA disability lawyers talks about what we do when we appeal your case to the VA.
Does the VA Work With Tribal Governments?
The VA has a dedicated office that works with tribal governments. The VA Office of Tribal Government Relations (OTGR) consults with American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments to create partnerships and allow input from tribal governments on VA policies, programs, and services that may affect veterans living in Indian country and tribal governments.
The office works to create and maintain enduring, trusting relationships to serve veterans and sponsors regional training sessions for tribal leaders.
Honoring Native American Veterans
The National Museum of the American Indian plans to dedicate the National Native American Veterans Memorial in Washington on Veterans Day 2022.
In the meantime, the museum offers an online collection that shines a light on the generations of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian members who served in the U.S. armed forces.
A special exhibit called Why We Serve examines a difficult question: “Why would Indians serve a country that overran their homelands, suppressed their cultures, and confined them to reservations?” The answer is somehow both simple and complex:
“Native people have served for the same reasons as anyone else: to demonstrate patriotism or pursue employment, education, or adventure. Many were drafted. Yet tribal warrior traditions, treaty commitments with the United States, and responsibility for defending Native homelands have also inspired the enduring legacy of Indigenous military service.”National Museum of the american indian
Native American Veteran Organizations
The Native American Veterans Association (NAVA) describes itself as a non-profit organization that helps veterans transition to civilian life. They offer readjustment assistance, connecting mental health and wellness services, and career and educational training.
The National Congress of American Indians offers a resource page for veterans. Some of the goals for the organization include establishing veteran treatment courts, increasing the number of tribal veteran service officers, and increasing funding for VA tribal home-loan programs and the homeless veteran initiative.
How Woods and Woods Can Help You
If you are a Native American veteran or a dependent of a Native American veteran, you may be entitled to VA disability benefits. At Woods and Woods, we can help you file an initial claim at no charge. You only pay us if we win your appeal.
We believe all veterans should get the benefits they deserve. Call us or fill out our online contact form today.
Talk to Us About Your Claim:
Special VA benefits available to Native Americans include the Native American Direct Loan Program, the Alaska Native Veterans Land Allotment Program, and the VetSuccess on Campus Program. Native Americans are also eligible for all other VA benefits including disability compensation, dependent and survivor benefits, individual unemployability, Special Monthly Compensation, pension, health care, insurance, education and training, home loans, and funeral benefits.
The 2019 Dingell Act allows eligible Vietnam-era veterans or their heirs to apply for up to 160 acres of federal land in Alaska. To be eligible, you must be an Alaska Native who served between Aug. 5, 1964, and Dec. 31, 1971.