KUSA- The drumming began shortly before noon: an acknowledgement of service with a song dedicated to the flag they served.
"It's akin to being a member of the tribe," said Amber Longoria, a U.S. Navy Veteran.
On this Veterans Day, Native American veterans received special recognition at CU Denver.
"It really just expanded my horizons," said U.S. Navy Veteran Reed Zephier.
About a third of all the men in tribal communities served in the U.S. military— a higher percentage than any other ethnic group.
Overall, there are an estimated 200,000 Native American veterans, along with another 130,000 currently in the military today.
"American Indian and Alaskan Natives are well overrepresented, in fact, the most overrepresented of the racial and ethnic groups among military personnel," said Professor Spero Manson is with the Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health at the Colorado School of Public Health at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.
Professor Manson has conducted landmark studies on the Native American veteran experience and found they face unique challenges, once their military service ends-- including access to VA care and efforts to address Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"Mental illness remains highly stigmatized in Indian and Native communities," he said.
Amber Longoria and Reed Zephier are both Native American veterans, but their experiences differ.
Longoria struggled after leaving the Navy and had contemplated suicide.
"I was struggling to stay afloat. But, really, I was drowning," she said. "I came very close. And it has to do with a lack of mission, lack of having a purpose."
Zephier joined the Navy because his grandfather had served, too and credits his family with helping ease his return home.
"My family was there before, during and after the military and having their support," he said. "I probably couldn't have done it without them."
It is that kind of support that Professor Manson says is critical for all veterans, including those who are Native American.
"I think we're increasingly appreciative of that, but it's been a long time in coming," he said.
Professor Manson says the Native American cultural traditions are starting to make their way into residential treatment programs for PTSD, including one called "The Wiping of Tears Ceremony." He said it gives veterans a chance to express some of the distress they are feeling, in keeping with some of their traditions.
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