Montana tribal council member joining new federal advisory committee for Indigenous veteran outreach
A tribal council member from Fort Peck Reservation has been appointed to a new federal advisory committee focusing on improving outreach to Indigenous veterans.
Jestin Dupree from Poplar, Montana, is the state’s sole Indigenous representative on the Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee on Tribal and Indian Affairs.
The committee will advise the VA secretary on matters concerning Indigenous veterans.
Dupree served in the U.S. Army for five tours, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. He says one of his goals is to get better access to health care for Indigenous veterans.
“Living in rural parts of Montana, on our respective reservations, has its challenges," Dupree says. "A big challenge would be the distance to get to an appointment. I'll give you an example: Fort Harrison from where I live in Poplar is eight-and-a-half hours one way in driving. And that's when the weather is nice."
Dupree says there is also a lack of readily available behavioral health care on reservations that makes matters worse.
“A veteran should not have to commit suicide in order for somebody to raise an eyebrow. I think a veteran should be entitled to — if they need help right now, they should be taken there to get help and not wait months on end,” he says.
Dupree’s term will last two to three years.
Montana Sen. Jon Tester was part of a bipartisan group of senators that introduced a bill in 2019 to establish the new committee. The bill was signed into law earlier this year.
There are more than 3,000 Indigenous veterans living in Montana.
Taylar Stagner is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report for America Indigenous Affairs reporter.