TAHLEQUAH, Okla. - Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner are proposing the establishment of a new cabinet-level Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Former Deputy Chief and U.S. Navy veteran S. Joe Crittenden will be nominated for the position, Chief Hoskin told a group of Cherokee veterans Friday during a roundtable discussion in Tahlequah.
The Secretary of Veterans Affairs will act on behalf of Cherokee veterans, overseeing the Cherokee Nation Veterans Center and Cherokee Warrior Memorial, new and existing tribal partnerships with VA hospitals and the Eastern Oklahoma Food Bank, the tribe’s annual Cherokee Warrior Flight and yearly events hosted for and in honor of veterans.
“So many Cherokee men and women have committed a part of their lives to military service, helping to protect the freedoms we enjoy each and every day. That’s why the Cherokee Nation has been a strong supporter of providing our veterans with the resources they need to live healthy lives,” Chief Hoskin said. “By creating a cabinet-level Secretary of Veterans Affairs, we will be building upon the foundation of support that already existed for our Cherokee veterans. I can think of no better choice to serve as the first Secretary of Veterans Affairs than former Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden, a Vietnam-era Navy veteran who understands the needs of those who served and for many years has fought tirelessly to ensure those needs are met.”
During his eight years as Deputy Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Crittenden helped ensure the state-of-the-art Cherokee Nation Veterans Center was completed and opened. He oversaw the Cherokee Warrior Flight and signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to make obtaining quality health care a more seamless process for Cherokee veterans wanting to use the tribe’s health centers for routine care they would normally get through a VA hospital. He also signed a partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to ensure Cherokee Nation was one of 26 tribes nationwide to be part of a new housing program for homeless Native American military veterans.
In 2018, the Cherokee Nation worked with the city of Sallisaw on relocating a new state veterans center.
“Former Deputy Chief Crittenden has been a dedicated advocate for veterans and his knowledge of veterans support programs makes him the perfect choice for this role,” Deputy Chief Warner said. “The timing is also important. Just last year, the Oklahoma Veterans Commission chose my hometown of Sallisaw as the site of the state’s new veterans center. The Cherokee Nation pledged to be a partner in this monumental project. Having a Cherokee Nation Secretary of Veterans Affairs, particularly one who has previous experience with public-private-tribal partnerships and veterans programs, will be a blessing to the tribe and the state as this venture begins.”
Crittenden resides in Adair County with his wife, Lynda. He is a graduate of Stilwell High School and holds a bachelor’s in business administration and accounting from Northeastern State University. After serving in the Navy from April 1964 until Aug. 1967, he worked for the U.S. Postal Service, serving as Post Master of Stilwell and Marble City before retiring after more than 30 years of public service. He then served two terms on the Council of the Cherokee Nation before being elected as Deputy Chief in 2011.
“I am honored to have been asked by Chief Hoskin and Deputy Chief Warner to be the Cherokee Nation’s first Secretary of Veterans Affairs,” Crittenden said. “What a blessing our veterans have been to our great tribe and this great country. I can’t say enough about Cherokee Nation Veterans Center Director Barbara Foreman, who has made great strides for our Cherokee veterans and the services we offer them in recent years. I look forward to working with her to build on that progress in the coming years, with the Council of the Cherokee Nation’s approval.”
The proposal to create the cabinet-level position, as well as Crittenden’s appointment to the new post, will go before the Council of the Cherokee Nation.