Tribal Government & News

Tribe hires first Veterans' Services Officer

07.14.2020 Danielle Frost Tribal employees, State government
Ramona Quenelle stands next to the Navy pillar of the West Valley Veterans Memorial on Monday, July 13. Quenelle, a Navy veteran, has been hired as the Tribe’s first Veterans’ Services Officer and will help Native veterans access the benefits that they earned through their military service. (Photo by Dean Rhodes/Smoke Signals)


By Danielle Frost

Smoke Signals staff writer

Navy veteran Ramona Quenelle is the Grand Ronde Tribe’s first Veterans’ Services Officer.

“This is a real opportunity for development and growth,” Quenelle said. “Ultimately, I want people to understand I am really passionate about serving Tribal veterans and that will be my number one goal.”

She has worked for the Tribe for two years as Tribal Court Programs coordinator and has a background in veterans’ education services. The new position was created at the behest of Tribal leaders who have long advocated for local services to help other Tribal veterans navigate their federal benefits.

In 2019, the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 5598, which provided funds for each of the nine Tribes to have its own Veterans’ Services Officer. The purpose of these funds was for Tribes to “expand and enhance their programs and services.”    

In March 2020, Tribal Council approved a memorandum of understanding with the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs to provide training and accreditation for the job. The state will provide $25,000 annually toward the new position.

Former Tribal Council Chair and Marine Corps veteran Reyn Leno has long been an advocate of a Grand Ronde-based position.

“It has always been difficult to get care for our veterans,” he said. “A lot of older veterans like my dad, who served in World War II, it was really hard to get them to go to Portland or Vancouver Veterans Affairs offices. It’s important for Tribes to have their own Veterans’ Services Officer.

“Also, a lot of our Native American veterans really rely on their families to help them access services, so this will really help them. It’s a more comfortable feeling to have this service locally, and takes some of the burden off of the VA. It’s a different level of service when a Tribal member can come right in here and it will help them feel more comfortable.”

Social Services Department Manager Dana Ainam said Quenelle’s combination of military service and experience of working with veterans is a good fit for the new role.

“We are so excited to add this program to our Social Services team,” Ainam said. “We will now be able to have a dedicated staff member to build relationships and knowledge to better serve our Tribal veterans and assure that they receive the benefits and support that is deserved.

“Ramona Quenelle … brings the presence of positivity and passion to her work. Her vision and excitement to develop this program, learn and build community will serve us well. We look forward to identifying our veterans and learning how we can meet their needs.”

Quenelle’s first goal as the Veterans’ Services Officer will be to attain accreditation, which takes approximately 12 months and 1,000 hours of working with veterans. She began her first week of training July 6.

“What I didn’t anticipate about this job is that my unique background of military service, health care, education and criminal justice work would all come together to prepare me for this,” she said. “Every single thing I have ever done in these fields will really benefit me in this position.”

The primary function of Quenelle’s job is to assist veterans and their families by obtaining the benefits they are entitled to through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I will help guide them and gather the proper documentation needed to obtain benefits,” Quenelle said. “I feel like I will be the person who helps unlock the puzzle. This is how I envision that job.”

Quenelle is the third Tribal Veterans’ Services Officer in Oregon. The other two are at the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation.

Another goal during Quenelle’s first year will be to identify Tribal veterans needing services, connect with them and tailor the program to their needs.

“We have a cultural aspect that is unique in a veterans’ program,” she said. “There is a lot of research and work we are doing.  

Quenelle, 40, is an enrolled member of the Pit River Tribe (Madesi Band) and grew up at the Roaring Creek Rancheria Reservation near Redding, Calif.  

She served in the Navy from 1999 to 2003 on active duty in South Korea and Japan and deployed two years on the USS Blue Ridge in the Asian Pacific. Quenelle was an active reservist from 2003 to 2006.

She has an associate degree in general business from Shasta Community College, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice (summa cum laude) from Colorado Technical University and a master’s degree in human behavior from National University.

She has worked for the Grand Ronde Tribe since October 2018 as the Tribal Court Programs coordinator. Before that, Quenelle was employed at Shasta Community College for four years in the president’s office and student services, where she worked with students who were veterans and helped create a service center focused on helping them be successful in college.

She is married to Anthony Quenelle and they have six children, Koosah (17), Corina (17), Alliyah (13), Marie (9), Leloo (7) and Ulali (4).

In her spare time, Quenelle enjoys attending powwows, dancing, sewing, running, drawing, reading and spending time with her family.

“I’m so excited and proud to call myself a Tribal Veterans’ Services Officer,” she said.