|The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Native Sun
News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.
Robert Dunsmore, front row, second from right, poses with the Cheyenne River Veterans Association. Dunsmore has worked tirelessly on issues facing his fellow Native American veteran Akicita (Warriors).
COURTESY/CHEYENNE RIVER VETERANS ASSOCIATION
Honoring our Akicita: Robert Dunsmore reaches out on Cheyenne River
By Brandon Ecoffey
Native Sun News Staff Writer
EAGLE BUTTE — From 1977 to 1981, Robert Dunsmore, Lakota, served in the U.S. Army specializing in work with helicopters.
Today, Dunsmore works as an advocate for other Native American veterans in South Dakota, informing them about the services that are available to them.
“I kind of followed my brothers’ footsteps, they all went and served in Vietnam and came back. So I guess I decided to do what they did, and I went and joined the army,” said Dunsmore.
Dunsmore, who was born in December of 1960, has worked as the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s veterans service officer for the last three and a half years. In this position, Dunsmore plays an active role in addressing the needs of his fellow veterans.
As a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s Veterans Services Committee he has worked to educate both returning and retired veterans about the services that are available to them.
“We are involved in all kinds of veterans’ issues, especially with the VA on health care. Really, anything to do with veterans’ issues we try to help out with,” Dunsmore said.
“South Dakota has more veterans per capita than any other state, yet our veterans — especially the Indian ones — do not take advantage of the services that are available to them,” he noted.
He believes that part of the reason why Native American veterans fail to utilize the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ services is that they are unaware of what is available to them.
“The VA tries to let people know what their programs are, but at the same time they are not going to go stand out on the street corner with signs and advertise their programs either,” said Dunsmore.
Of particular concern to him and the veterans committee is the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder among their ranks — and the unwillingness of recent veterans to admit that they are showing signs of the disease.
PTSD, which has become a well-known diagnosis among veterans in America over the last decade, often goes untreated because returning soldiers often deny they are experiencing symptoms of the disease.
“PTSD has been around since World War I, World War II, through Korea and Vietnam, and is here again with the wars going on now,” said Dunsmore.
“The problem now is with the young guys coming back; I work with them a lot, and they will not admit that something is wrong with them — and they are going without treatment. They are the ones we have to push for now because they are the ones we have to worry about now.”
In addition to working on health care issues, Dunsmore and the veterans committee in Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Reservation try to reach out to other veterans to help them receive the recognition they deserve for their service.
“Some of the vets will not come forward because of how they were treated coming back from Vietnam by the public. The other ones will not come forward because it is a cultural thing. Native American veterans do not go around bragging about their accomplishments over there,” Dunsmore said.
He hopes that this will change when other veterans reach out to them and let them know that being a veteran is something to be proud of.
“A vet is more likely to speak with another vet about things that are bothering them or about their experience — that is what the veterans committee is here for.”
(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at firstname.lastname@example.org)