- Associated Press - Saturday, June 14, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Sen. Heidi Heitkamp says there are serious challenges facing Native American veterans in North Dakota.

Heitkamp hosted a summit Saturday on Native American veterans at United Tribes Technical College that brought together government officials from Washington, the acting director of the Indian Health Service and Native American veterans themselves.

The Bismarck Tribune reports that veterans spoke with officials about their challenges in accessing services and support. The Democratic senator called the challenges veterans face “deeply disturbing.”

“We didn’t come here to talk,” Heitkamp said. “We came here to listen and to respond.”

Manaja Hill, a veteran, took over as the veterans service officer at the beginning of June for the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which covers 2.3 million acres and straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border.

Hill said one of the bigger challenges is a lack of understanding by the various agencies that deal with Native American veteran issues. He said there’s a lack of consistency when it comes to dealing with issues faced by Native American veterans.

“It’s an archaic system,” Hill said. “Why aren’t the local tribes involved? You can’t know what’s going on out there unless you live there.”

Summit attendees also said a big issue is that most reservations are in remote areas. While there are seven community-based outreach clinics around the state, the main Veterans Affairs hospital is in Fargo.

The summit followed President Barack Obama’s visit to Cannon Ball on Friday. Obama attended the beginning of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation’s Flag Day ceremony, which honors soldiers from Standing Rock who have been wounded or killed while serving.