The Cherokee Nation and Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System on Thursday celebrated a historic agreement that will provide a VA clinic inside the tribe’s Vinita Health Center for area veterans.

VINITA, Okla. — The Cherokee Nation and Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System on Thursday celebrated a historic agreement that will provide a VA clinic inside the tribe’s Vinita Health Center for area veterans.

The tribe is providing around 1,300 square feet of leased space for the VA clinic, which is set to open in 2024 and serve both Native and non-Native veterans in the region.

Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. 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 the closure of the local VA health clinic was announced amidst VA expansion elsewhere in the region.

“The Cherokee Nation has always held veterans in the highest regard. We strive every day to make access to health care a priority, especially for our Cherokee Warriors,” Chief Hoskin said. “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 Chuck Hoskin, as the mayor at that time, 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. He found that the VA and Executive Director of the Eastern Oklahoma Health Care System Dr. Kimberly Denning were willing to explore this unique partnership, which is the reason we reached this historic agreement. Together we are creating a roadmap for how rural America can work hand-in-hand with tribes like the Cherokee Nation to provide the best care possible for all veterans.”

Five staff from the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System will be housed in the Vinita Health Center when the space opens next year.

“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.”

The VA clinic will also include a waiting area, exam rooms, work areas, and parking and will work with the Vinita Health Center to accomplish lab and x-ray services for seamless care.

“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 former Vinita Mayor Chuck 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 Bryan Warner, Deputy Speaker of the Council Victoria Vazquez and Cherokee Nation Secretary of Veterans Affairs S. Joe Crittenden, and forward-thinking VA leadership, to make a historic tribal-federal partnership like this work.”

Tribal leaders joined officials from the VA Thursday to officially celebrate the partnership, discuss plans for the new VA space, and show area veterans where the new space will be located.

“In recent years, the Cherokee Nation has put extra effort toward expanding services for our Cherokee Warriors. We’re working diligently to ensure veterans have a path toward overall wellness – mind, body and spirit – through the great work of our Office of Veterans Affairs and other tribal departments,” Deputy Chief Bryan Warner said. “The men and women who have served their country and their tribal nation deserve the best care possible. The Cherokee Nation and VA share this mission of caring for our veterans, and this collaboration is a great example of how we can do that by working together.”

The Cherokee Nation Veterans Center staff in Tahlequah serves veterans with benefits, meals, housing needs and food security and also helps connect veterans to federal programs and services. The tribe also works throughout the year to address food insecurity issues among Cherokee veterans and to connect veterans to health and wellness programs and services.

“This VA clinic is a fantastic addition to the Cherokee Nation Vinita Health Center and will truly help so many veterans who live in and around Craig County,” said District 11 Councilor and Deputy Speaker Victoria Vazquez.

The Cherokee Nation also partnered with the U.S. Department of Defense Innovative Readiness Training program in Tahlequah to address housing insecurity by building 21 houses for Cherokee families with an eligible Cherokee Nation citizen veteran or citizen who is in active military service.

“Our Cherokee Nation Office of Veterans Affairs works every day to be a crucial service to all veterans, and a partnership with the VA is of great value to Northeast Oklahoma and the Cherokee Nation Reservation,” said Cherokee Nation Secretary of Veterans Affairs S. Joe Crittenden.

Native Americans, including Cherokees, are thought to have more citizens serving per capita than any other ethnic group.

“I’m very excited for this clinic. The Cherokee Nation Vinita Health Center already provides the best healthcare I’ve had in my life, so I really believe that’s going to continue on, especially with the Cherokee influence,” said Cherokee veteran James Land, of Miami, Okla. “It seems to me because of the experience I’ve had with the VA clinic before they have a better understanding of a veteran’s mindset and the difficulties they’ve been through, so they’re able to service them better based on what they’ve been through. Cherokee Nation and the VA working together, it’s going to be a good partnership. I’m a disabled veteran, and I’m 72 years of age, so I do know that transportation is going to get more difficult for me. So this is very appreciative from the bottom of my heart.”

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.