The Bureau of Land Management on Thursday announced final rules that will allow nearly 2,000 Alaska Native veterans who served in the military during the Vietnam War to apply for federal land allotments in Alaska of up to 160 acres.
An application period will begin soon, the agency said in a statement.
The new five-year program, approved by Congress in a major lands bill last year, broadens the application rules from earlier programs that, according to supporters, prevented many Native veterans from applying.
The first chance to receive the allotments ended in 1971, at a time when many Native veterans were still serving and could not apply. Congress created another 18-month application period in 1998 for Native veterans in active duty between 1969 and 1971.
Nelson Angapak, an Alaska Native who fought for the new program, has said the unfortunate timing and limited application rules prevented many Native veterans from applying. Only about 250 veterans received allotments in 1998.
The new program is open to all eligible Alaska Natives who served between Aug. 5, 1964, and Dec. 31, 1971, and who did not previously receive an allotment under an earlier program, the federal agency said in a statement Thursday. Veterans' heirs can also apply.
The new program removes past rules that required Alaska Natives to have previously used or occupied the land they’re applying for. That flexibility angered some conservation groups who said it would carve up and privatize hundreds of thousands of federal acres for an issue that has previously been addressed.
Some land will be off limits, including national forests, refuges, parks and congressionally designated wilderness areas.
Alaska’s congressional delegation praised the announcement.
“Alaska Native Vietnam Veterans put their lives on the line for our nation, and for too long, the federal government fell shamefully short of making good on the promises of land allotments made to them,” said Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, in a written statement.
The Bureau of Land Management has notified 1,975 Alaska Native veterans and heirs that they are eligible to apply for the program. Second notices with applications confirming eligibility are being mailed to individuals, the agency said.
The application period will begin 30 days after the final rules are published in the Federal Register, an action expected in the coming weeks.
Veterans who believe they are eligible but weren’t notified should contact their Bureau of Indian Affairs Realty Tribal Service Providers or call BLM at 907-271-5998. Rules and applications are available at blm.gov/alaska.