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Public Comment Period Closing on 500,000-Acre AK Native Veteran Program

Final rules dictating the land allotment process for Alaska Native Veterans will be published this fall. The Bureau of Land Management says once the current public comment period ends on Monday [August 10th], they plan to finalize the rules and begin accepting applications.

Paul Krabacher is the program manager for the Bureau of Land Management. He says BLM is looking for public comment on particular sections of the program.

“One is related to the causes of rejection for an application, and if our reasoning and rationale is okay and makes sense. Another item that we’d love to hear comments on is how we look at and decide on conflicting applications, applications that actually apply for the same land.”

One anonymous comment submitted earlier on the proposed rules asked who would get priority if two people applied for the same parcel of land. Krabacher says that depends on what portion of the land overlaps, but essentially whomever applies first gets priority.

“If it’s complete, then we refer back to the actual receipt date that is stamped when we actually receive the application, and if those dates are the same, then we go to the postmark date. And then there will be a third tiebreaker as well.”

If the applications partially overlap, then the secondary individual can extend or modify their application to exclude that portion of land. However, applications won’t be available until the final rules of the program are published.

As the federal entities were determining who is eligible under this program, it was discovered that many Alaska Native veterans no longer live in Alaska and 40% have already died. That’s not to say that some eligible individuals, or their descendants, may have slipped through the cracks and not yet received a letter in the mail.

A reminder that if you are a veteran and have already received an allotment prior to now, then you are ineligible to receive land again under this AK Native Veterans Program.

The 2019 Dingell Act, passed by U.S. Congress in March of last year, required the Department of Veterans Affairs to identify all veterans who might be eligible for this program. And so they came up with a substantial number of names.

But, according to Krabacher, that exhaustive list has been considerably pared down over the last six months.

“They submitted those names to BIA, and BIA went through ten million names; and we wanted the entire database of veterans that served within that time period [August, 1964 through December of 1971]. BIA then reviewed those ten million names to determine the Alaska Native Veterans out of that data. So that got distilled down a little under 3,000 names.”

If those 3,000 eligible individuals claim up to 160-acres of land a piece, Krabacher says BLM could end up allotting almost 500,000 total acres to Alaska Native veterans.

As Nelson Angapak former Vice President of AFN, told KNOM last year regarding this program, “passing the legislation into law is the not the hardest thing we’re facing. The biggest challenge we are going to be faced with is the implementation of this law.”

To submit a comment regarding implementation or any section of the proposed rules for Alaska Native Veterans Program, go online to BLM.gov.

The public comment period ends Monday, August 10th.

Image at top: A map of the total acreage of land that will potentially be available for Alaska Native Veterans to claim through the BLM’s program.
Photo: screen grab from BLM, 2020.

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