Representative Ann Kirkpatrick announced today that her Indian Veterans Housing Opportunity Act has been signed into law. This major success on behalf of tribal communities will prevent Native American Veterans, their families and survivors from being denied low-income housing assistance through the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA) due to their military service. The law takes effect immediately.
Congress passed NAHASDA in 1996 to allow tribal communities to more easily access housing grants. The program provides support to families who make less than 80 percent of the median income of their area. While it has helped folks in Indian Country, an oversight has allowed Veterans disability and survivor benefits to count as income, causing some former service members to be made ineligible for much-needed housing assistance.
H.R. 3553 fixes this flaw by specifically excluding Veterans benefits from the definition of income, finally correcting a problem that has disadvantaged thousands. Over 20 percent of folks in Indian Country have served in the military.
"For over a decade, Native Americans who fought for this Nation watched as their Veterans' benefits actually created new burdens for them, and that's unacceptable," said Congresswoman Kirkpatrick. "This outrageous defect in the law demanded action, and I am grateful that the Navajo Housing Authority brought it to my attention.
"We have worked hard together to right this wrong. With our victory, more of America's heroes will be able to move into higher quality housing with their families, and communities across Indian Country will grow stronger."
Rep. Kirkpatrick, a Member of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, worked closely with the Navajo Housing Authority (NHA) to craft the legislation and introduced it last year. She was able to push it through the House of Representatives in June with strong support, and the Senate passed it unanimously on September 27. The President signed the bill into law today.
"Getting this bill passed through Congress and signed by the President shows Congresswoman Kirkpatrick's commitment to Native Veterans and her ability to make real change in a tough environment," said Leonard Teller, Navajo Nation Council Delegate and Chair of the Navajo Housing Authority Board of Commissioners. "As one of thousands of Native Veterans who have served this great country in the Armed Forces, I am grateful to have played a small part in making this law become a reality, and I'm grateful for Congresswoman Kirkpatrick's leadership."
The Congresswoman has made her work on behalf of Indian Country one of her particular focuses in her first term in Congress and has fought hard to make the voices of the tribes heard. In April, she brought a Congressional delegation to Window Rock for a field hearing, ensuring that members of Greater Arizona's Native Americans had the opportunity to share their concerns with Washington in their own words and discuss in detail the obstacles disabled Indian Veterans and survivors have continued to face as a result of this decade-old problem.
"Greater Arizona's Native American Veterans deserve a representative who will fight to make them heard in Washington," said Rep. Kirkpatrick. "I am proud to have helped give them a voice.
"However, enacting this law is just one of many steps we must take to help the tribes create new and better opportunities in Indian Country. I am committed to continuing my efforts on behalf of Native Americans, and I will keep fighting to make Congress work for them. Together, we can overcome the many obstacles we face and blaze a path to a brighter future."
As the daughter and niece of Veterans, Rep. Kirkpatrick has been pushing hard to make Washington meet its obligations to America's heroes. She represents the largest Native American population of any congressional district in the country and has become a champion for the tribes and for Veterans living on tribal lands.
In addition to this legislation, she is demanding that the Bureau of Indian Affairs correct a similar problem with the Housing Improvement Program that is also posing challenges for Native Veterans. She has also introduced the Rural American Indian Veterans Health Care Improvement Act to make it easier for them to access quality health care options. As recognition of her commitment to tribal communities, she was recently allowed the honor of giving the keynote speech at the first inaugural Navajo Housing Summit.