At the start of the pandemic, VA’s Office of Tribal Government Relations knew it had to find ways to continue outreach and communication with Indian Country. Prior to COVID-19 disrupting face to face gatherings, the office was active with in-person outreach events.

Throughout 2018 alone, VA launched a nationwide campaign to roll out VA claims events with tribal communities. It provided over 32 events in 24 communities, delivering thousands of dollars in VA benefits to tribal Veterans.

“So much of our focus had been on in-person outreach,” said Mary Culley, outreach specialist, Oklahoma City. “Once the pandemic hit, we had to get creative – and we did.”

Outreach virtual campaign: “WebEx Wednesdays”

Director Stephanie Birdwell created a plan to host a series called “WebEx Wednesdays,” an outreach virtual campaign hosted every other Wednesday. The campaign focused on topics of interest and concern for Veterans, tribal leaders and Veteran advocates.

Posting the colors

“Attendance has been good and we have also teamed up with our other federal partners as well to present,” Culley said.

Prior to the pandemic, Culley was active in hosting women tribal Veteran events. In September 2019, she spearheaded a Tribal Women Veterans Summit in Oklahoma City. That summit was attended by over 150 Veterans and those that provide services to women Veterans.

“The information presented at that summit benefitted women Veterans and those that serve them,” she said. “We wanted women Veterans to access the full range of benefits they have courageously earned through their service.”

Nearly 30,000 women Veterans in Oklahoma

Culley notes that women are now well represented among the entire population of Veterans. In 2017, Oklahoma had 29,100 women Veterans with that number expected to increase dramatically in the next 10 years.

This year, Culley is kicking off a Summer Tribal Women Virtual Veteran Event series. “This will be the first virtual series I have done this year for Tribal Women Veterans specifically,” she added. “I’m excited to see the participation and involvement from our tribal women Veterans and providers over the summer. The series kicked off June 1 with a 2-hour discussion and focus on ‘Marrying military and traditional culture.’”

The next two virtual sessions were June 22 and July 13. They focused on indigenous women Veterans and domestic violence issues, in addition to a June 23 virtual roundtable discussion.

“I always enjoy working directly with the Veterans we serve,”Culley said. “Even though I haven’t had the opportunity to meet face to face with tribal Veterans this past year, we did not let that hold us back. Creativity and virtual platforms helped us bridge the gap during such a challenging year.”

For more information about Tribal Veteran services and the Tribal Women Veteran Virtual series, contact Mary Culley, VA Tribal Government Relations specialist, at (405) 626-3426, Mary.Culley@va.gov.

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