VINITA, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation and Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System recently signed an historic agreement to provide a VA clinic inside the tribe’s Vinita Health Center for area Veterans.
The tribe will provide around 1,300 square feet of leased space for the VA Clinic which is set to open around the new year. The VA clinic will serve both Native Veterans and non-Native Veterans in the region.
“The Cherokee Nation holds our veterans in the highest regard and believes in making access to health care a priority, especially for our Warriors who bravely served this nation. By having a VA Clinic positioned in the corner of our state and tribal reservation, we know that we are helping ensure that need is met and will make it easier for many Veterans,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said.
The Cherokee Nation partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs made the venture possible and could be a roadmap for how rural America works hand in hand with tribes to provide the best care possible for all Veterans.
“For the first time in the Eastern Oklahoma Health Care System history, we are expanding access to health care in partnership within a tribal health care system,” said Executive Director of the Eastern Oklahoma Health Care System Dr. Kimberly Denning. “As the Veteran and tribal population in Eastern Oklahoma continues to grow, this meaningful partnership with Cherokee Nation will enable Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System to meet their needs. Thank you to Chief Hoskin Jr. and the entire Cherokee Nation for joining the VA in providing care to both tribal and non-tribal Veterans.”
Five staff from the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System will be housed in the Vinita Health Center. The VA clinic will also include a waiting area, exam rooms, work areas, parking and will work hand in hand with the Vinita Health Center to accomplish lab and x-ray services for seamless care.
“The Cherokee Nation and VA worked tirelessly when the closure of the VA health clinic in Vinita was announced in 2021. I knew that my father, as the mayor, as a former state and tribal official and above all as a Navy Veteran, would exhaust every effort to engage the VA on this issue,” Chief Hoskin added. “He found that the VA with the current Medical Center Director, Dr. Denning, was willing to listen and willing to explore a unique partnership, which is the reason we reached this historic agreement.”
Chief Hoskin credits his father, former Vinita Mayor Chuck Hoskin and the local VA Leadership, with spearheading the effort to maintain a level of VA services to Vinita after closure of the local VA health clinic was announced amidst VA expansion elsewhere in the region.
“As a Veteran, a former public official and a lifelong resident of Vinita I know how important it is for Veterans to have health care close to where they live,” said Hoskin. “I applaud the VA for all of the expansion and modernization efforts they are undertaking, but it is particularly meaningful to me that they were willing to sit down and find a way to keep a presence in Vinita. In the end it takes leaders like Chief Hoskin, Jr., Deputy Chief Warner, Deputy Speaker Victoria Vazquez and Cherokee Nation Secretary of Veterans Affairs S. Joe Crittenden and forward-thinking VA leadership to make an historic tribal/federal partnership like this work.”
The tribe and VA will celebrate the partnership with an upcoming celebration for Veterans and guests later this year.
“The Cherokee Nation believes in strong partnerships, and we know this will serve as a model,” Deputy Chief Bryan Warner said. “The Cherokee Nation and VA share a similar mission and that is taking care of our Veterans.”
The Cherokee Nation has a Veterans Center in Tahlequah to serve Veterans with benefits, meals, housing needs and food security. It also offers a Cherokee Warrior Flight each year. Every month, the Cherokee Nation also honors service men and women for their sacrifices as a way to display the high regard in which all Veterans are held by the tribe. Native Americans, including Cherokees, are thought to have more citizens serving per capita than any other ethnic group.
The Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System serves about 53,000 veterans. The new VA Clinic in Vinita will be one of five outpatient clinics operated by the VA.