Secretary Haaland Announces New Delays & Complications for Alaska Native Vietnam-Era Veterans Seeking Allotments
Senator Sullivan Decries Announcement as Betrayal of Secretary’s Sacred Obligation to Veterans
FAIRBANKS, ALASKA—U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) today disputed Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s claim that she is “[moving] expeditiously to deliver on [her] promise” to Alaska Native Vietnam-era veterans as she accepted a “Finding of No Significant Impact” (FONSI) from the acting Alaska Bureau of Land Management (BLM) director on the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Alaska Native Vietnam-era Veterans Allotment Program. In accepting the FONSI, Secretary Haaland again declined to approve and send the public land orders (PLOs) that were completed by the prior interior secretary, David Bernhardt, an action supported by a broad coalition of Alaskans.
“The Biden administration inherited a commonsense solution to the land issues that have plagued our Alaska Native Vietnam-era veterans for the last fifty years,” Sullivan said. “They received a public land order from the Trump administration that simply needed to be published into the Federal Register. Secretary Haaland should have immediately issued the public land order prepared by the Department of the Interior’s professional Alaska-based staff.
“Alaska’s congressional delegation for the past year has been encouraging her to do so, including most recently in a letter sent earlier this week. Despite assurances to the delegation that she would urgently address this issue, the secretary has delayed for over a year. Sadly, many of these Vietnam-era veterans who fought for our country and suffered discrimination thereafter have not lived to receive the land our federal government promised them. After today’s announcement, it now appears many more may not either.
“This announcement is cause for great concern. The environmental assessment will delay the program undeservedly, complicate the land pattern unnecessarily, and bring about years—if not decades—of litigation.
“I call on the secretary to reverse course immediately and take the steps outlined in our letter to swiftly approve the public land order the Biden administration inherited. Anything less disrespects our Alaska Native veterans and is unacceptable.”
The roots of the allotment issue date back to 1906 when Congress passed a law allowing Alaska Natives to acquire 160-acre parcels of land. Those rights were extinguished with the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971. However, at that time, many Alaska Natives were serving during the Vietnam War and didn’t get the chance to apply for their own allotment.
The Alaska Native Veterans Act of 1998 attempted to partially fix this injustice, but due to restrictions, less than 500 Alaska Native Vietnam-era veterans ultimately applied. An estimated 2,800 veterans have still not received their allotments.
On March 12, 2019, President Donald Trump signed S. 47, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, legislation authored by Senator Lisa Murkowski and shepherded through the House by Congressman Don Young. The bill included a provision authored by Senator Sullivan allowing several thousand Alaska Native veterans who served during the Vietnam era to apply for their congressionally-promised ANCSA land allotment of up to 160 acres after missing their initial opportunity due to their service.
In April of 2021, the Interior Department under President Joe Biden imposed a two-year stay on the implementation of several new Public Land Orders (PLOs) in Alaska, despite the PLOs already being signed. These PLOs would have lifted withdrawal restrictions on 28 million acres of BLM land that have been in place for nearly a half century and whose purposes have long been met.
On March 24, 2022, Secretary Haaland, through BLM, introduced an EA for the Alaska Native Vietnam-era Veterans Land Allotment Program, causing further complications and delay.
The Dingel Act makes land selections available through December 29, 2025, meaning the Biden administration’s actions since taking office have significantly narrowed the window of time available for eligible veterans or their heirs.
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