Native Sun News: Oglala Sioux veterans reach out to peers

The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Native Sun News Managing Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Past generations of vets reach out to the next
By Brandon Ecoffey
Native Sun News Managing Editor

RAPID CITY— For many veterans, generational divides prevent servicemen from connecting and addressing the issues they all face collectively. For three Oglala Sioux veterans bridging this divide is essential.

Oglala Sioux Tribal President Bryan Brewer, Lloyd Goings, and Ed Garreau all served in the military during the Vietnam War. As a result of their experiences in combat they have carried with them both good and bad, but are now stepping up their efforts to work on behalf of veterans both young and old.

“When we get together it is never about rehashing old war stories or talking about things that happened over there. It is about the addressing the issues that are important to veterans,” said President Brewer.

Amongst one of the most pressing issues according to the group is finding ways to reach out to younger vets returning from Iraq or Afghanistan.

“At our last veteran’s association meeting we had a couple of young guys come in and that was really good. We would like to see more of that,” said Goings.

It has been well documented that the current generation of veterans returning from the middle east are afflicted with a high prevalence of traumatic brain injuries and PTSD. Often the presence of these diagnoses can lead to other social problems including domestic violence or substance abuse. For President Brewer and other vets who have experienced these problems firsthand it is of upmost importance that those in need of help are found and helped.

“The problem that we face is that many of these guys who have recently returned home no one knows they are back. So what we are trying to do is we want to reach out, find them, show them there is help and get them the services they need,” said Brewer.

According to Brewer about 900 former servicemen use the facilities available to them that are provided to them by the Veterans Administration. The problem however is that there is an estimated 3,000 veterans living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

“It is extremely difficult to get hard data on where our veterans are living and exactly how many there really are out there. This makes it hard for us when we are pursuing funding for grants and things of that nature,” said Brewer.

In Pine Ridge there is a veteran’s shelter for homeless vets and the tribe plans to build one on the eastern side of the reservation for those living in the Kyle area.

In recent years there has been a trend established by Congress that has cut in to the funds of an already financially stressed Indian Health Service and according to Brewer and Goings by reaching out to Veterans IHS can tap in to the funds available to treat veterans to help supplement their funds.

“IHS can do third party billing and they need to do more outreach to pull veterans in to their facilities. Every time I have gone to the VA hospitals they have gotten me everything I need and I have never once been discriminated against. The danger right now is that some of these hospitals are being targeted for cuts and the one in Hot Springs is constantly fighting to be kept open,” said Brewer.

The VA hospital in Hot Springs is the closest to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation but is still over 70 miles away from the heart of the reservation.

“IHS needs to do a better job and letting veterans know they have services there,” said Goings.

In order for this to happen however President Brewer feels that strong leadership is needed at both the local and national level to move IHS forward.

“We need a superstar at the local and even at the national level to advocate on behalf of the veterans and tribal members,” said President Brewer.

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