Cherokee Nation’s Veterans Center continues services amid pandemic
Cherokee Nation Secretary of Veterans Affairs S. Joe Crittenden, right, and Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. serve veterans in June during a food distribution event in Tahlequah. COURTESY
Cherokee Nation Secretary of State Todd Enlow, left, and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner prepare foods to be distributed during a veterans food distribution event in June in Tahlequah. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – Although the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Cherokee Nation services, the Office of Veterans Affairs facility is continuing to aid veterans with services such as claims, benefits, transportation, food outreach and counseling.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs S. Joe Crittenden said the Veterans Center is conducting “business as usual” and helping veterans despite having about 60% of its staff work from home due to age or underlying health conditions.
“Our staff has been trimmed down with the rest of the Nation,” Crittenden said. “So we’re kind of limited on who’s there and everything. But the office is open five days a week.”
The Veterans Center also continues helping veterans with rides to medical appointments and assisting with transportation as needed. And in partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs and Disable Veterans of America, it’s still meeting with veterans for claims and benefits assistance. Crittenden said ODVA and DVA representatives try to visit the center at least once a week to meet clients.
“We’re fielding calls from veterans, sometimes maybe for a ride to health care facility or wherever, and we’re trying to hook them up with people that can take care of that part of things,” he said. “We’ve got the ODVA person that comes once a week. We’ve got a desk and computer and they use it to do stuff, send emails and things and visit with veterans that need to see them.”
Crittenden said other representatives from the Purple Heart and American Legion Post 50 also visit the facility on a weekly basis. Readjustment counselor Matthew Tiger also comes to the center when veterans need counseling.
The Veterans Center is also providing food through its Veterans Food Outreach program in Tahlequah, Nowata and South Coffeyville. It aids approximately 125 veterans and widows of veterans with supplemental food every 90 days, according to cherokee.org
In addition to services, Crittenden said the center was able to obtain 2,400 N95 masks for veterans and their families through the National American Indian Veterans organization, which worked with a South Korea organization to provide them.
“(I) picked up 2,400 masks and some shields, the plastic face shields they wear in addition to the masks,” he said.
The Veterans Center has also restricted events that would draw large crowds to the facility, Crittenden said. “The main things that we’re not doing during the COVID-19 situation is we’re not having our dinners and the bingo nights that we have and other celebrations where we draw a large number of people. We’re not doing those because it’s unsafe.”
For information, call the center at 918-772-4166 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
. For other veteran services, call Purple Heart at 918-931-8632, American Legion Post 50 at 918-931-1381 or readjustment counselor Tiger at 1-800-256-0671, ext. 5693 or email email@example.com