SHIPROCK — A veteran from Aneth, Utah will be the first to receive a new house funded by a change in the set aside for the Navajo Nation Veterans Trust Fund.
Members of the Northern Agency Veterans Organization were informed about the selection by Wallace Charley, the veterans service officer for the Department of Navajo Veterans Affairs's Shiprock Agency office, during a Monday meeting.
Construction workers will start pouring the foundation for the three bedroom house this week, Charley said.
The female veteran was selected because her application file was complete and had been homeless after the hogan she built for herself and her children was destroyed by fire, he said.
The name of the individual was not announced during the meeting.
Last year, the Navajo Nation Council approved an amendment that split the mandatory 4 percent set aside for the Veterans Trust Fund, sending 2 percent to the trust fund and 2 percent to the Department of Navajo Veterans Affairs.
The 2 percent received by the veterans affairs department will be used to build 15 homes and provide minor home renovations for veterans in each of the five agencies through fiscal year 2017.
Under the project description, each agency will receive $931,170 each year to build one bedroom, two bedroom or three bedroom houses and hire a team of 10 workers to complete construction.
When the bill was under consideration by the council's committees, the Veterans Trust Fund balance was $86.1 million. A request for an updated balance was not returned by deadline Monday from the Office of the Controller.
Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly signed the bill into law last September.
The tribe and Home Depot USA signed a $1.9 million contract to receive housing materials for the 75 homes in February.
So far seven veterans in the Arizona chapters of Mexican Water, Red Mesa and Sweetwater and Tsé Daa K'aan Chapter in New Mexico have been selected, Charley said.
"I've been in politics for so long and if you help just one family (and) make their lives a little bit better, it's good," he said. "But in this case it's going to be 15 veterans' lives that will be better by the end of the year."
Paul George, the organization's president, said information about the trust fund amendment and the construction projects was made because some veterans have been asking about qualifications and the application process.
"It's going to be a slow process because you have one crew that will be building the 15 houses," George said.
During the meeting, Army veteran Mike Bekis questioned why only veterans living on the reservation were eligible to receive housing.
Bekis said at least half of the veterans living in Upper Fruitland live off the reservation but in San Juan County.
In the 1970s, Bekis applied for a home site lease within the chapter area and that lease was not approved until 2007.
By then his children were grown and he bought a home in the county using his home benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Bekis said the federal government did not "discriminate" against him when he enlisted but when it comes to seeking assistance from the tribe, it is divided between veterans who resided on the reservation and those who do not.
"I'm a registered voter with Upper Fruitland then they tell me, 'We can't assist you,'" he said.
Council Delegate Edmund Yazzie is sponsoring legislation to further amend the new home construction to include locations off the Navajo Nation.
Yazzie's legislation was posted March 18 on the council's website and became eligible for committee action on Monday.