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Elder fighting for a VFW post

LITTLE BOSTON — Port Gamble S’Klallam elder Aladdin Justin believes it’s important to recognize the fact that while there are 40 veterans of war on the Port Gamble Indian Reservation, access to information about their benefits is limited.

As the tribe’s veterans’ representative, he does what he can to provide benefit resources so vets don’t have to travel to Seattle or Tacoma. A big part of Justin’s job is helping them apply for disability insurance and providing the latest information on new programs, such as housing opportunities. He has also advocated putting together a support group for both tribal and non-tribal vets — a push that is being supported by the S’Klallam Wellness Center.

“(There are) a lot of guys who still have problems who can talk about them (and) find support within themselves,” he said.

But it’s not enough. Justin wants to create a Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post on the reservation to improve tribal veterans’ access to their benefits.

“People would be able to get information here rather than go some place else,” Justin said. “It took me a month to find a Service Officer.”

Posts are required to have at least 50 members, but because Port Gamble only has 40 vets, Justin is working with the Service Officer in Port Angeles to petition to have the number decreased to 35.

There is no name established yet for the post, but Justin would like to name it after Ivar George, a Port Gamble elder who is one of the oldest remaining World War II vets and who recently received an award for surviving the landing at Normandy on D-Day.

While Justin has been putting forth all this effort, he has also realized that many local vets can’t seem to get the medical services they need because they must travel to veterans hospitals in Seattle or Tacoma to receive treatment.

In response, both the Port Gamble and Lummi tribes are going to be the first tribes to try and establish a system in which vets can visit their tribal clinics and receive the services they need. Under the program, tribal veterans would be able to easily see their doctors once a month, get their prescriptions filled and be taken care of as needed, he said.

If all goes well, Justin said he’d like to see such services expand and later include dental coverage.

The S’Klallam, Tribe supports its vets, Justin said, and he hopes to obtain some funding to help get the chapter started. Currently, he is researching what it would take to establish a post there and is aiming to get the application in before summer.

“I like helping these guys,” Justin said. “We’ve got guys who refuse to remember Vietnam.”

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