Kotek appoints first Black woman to lead Department of Veterans Affairs

By: - January 17, 2024 6:50 pm
Veterans Day in the United States honors those who have served in the nation’s military and also coincides with the anniversary of the conclusion of hostilities on the western front in World War I.

Nakeia Daniels is the first Black woman at the help of the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

UPDATED on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2023 at 9:18 a.m. with a veteran comment.

Gov. Tina Kotek announced Wednesday she’s promoting the interim head of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Nakeia Daniels, to director of the agency, pending state Senate confirmation.

Daniels was appointed deputy director of the agency last April and in October took the reins as interim director. She’s the first Black person to lead the agency and the second woman in the role, after Kelly Fitzpatrick, who was director for five years, from September 2018 to last September.

The Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs has 100 employees and a two-year budget of $173 million through mid-2025. Daniels, who’s 44, accepted a salary of $19,069 a month or nearly $229,000 a year as director. She comes to the job with years of military and government experience and a focus on equity.

Nakeia Daniels leads the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs. (Courtesy of the governor’s office)

She was a finance administrator in the U.S. Army for eight years, then worked five years in Maryland’s transportation administration. She started her government career in Oregon in 2015 at the Department of Energy, and in 2016, then-Gov. Kate Brown tapped Daniels as a policy adviser on DEI, or diversity, equity and inclusion, a role she held for two years. She focused on promoting awareness of affirmative action statewide and tracking equity in state government for the Legislature and governor’s office, according to her resume.

Daniels served Brown as an adviser on veterans affairs in 2018 and the same year was hired as deputy director of the Oregon Youth Authority, with a budget of $400 million, 1,100 employees and 1,300 youth in the system. In 2022, Brown appointed Daniels her director of equity and racial justice, and she moved to the Department of Veterans Affairs last year.

Her resume says she’s a “disrupter of traditional norms and practice, starting with top agency leadership.” She said she boosted the diversity of job applicants and interview panels by 40%.

In Wednesday’s release, she called veterans “our true American heroes” and said she was honored and committed to serving them.

“They deserve the utmost quality in services and benefits tailored to their unique needs,” Daniels said. “I am grateful and humbled for the opportunity to lead the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and I pledge to carry out this important work with diligence, dedication and duty.”

Kotek called Daniels a strong leader for the agency.

“Her experience in the U.S. Army and multiple executive branch positions equip her well to serve Oregon’s veterans with the persistence and compassion the role demands,” Kotek said.

Daniels’ appointment was welcomed by veteran Gregory Walker, a retired Green Beret and Department of Defense veterans case manager and patient advocate.

Her public commitment to ensure no Oregon veteran will be forgotten, left behind or denied hard earned benefits and services because of administrative shortcomings or an overly complicated navigational bureaucracy in Salem is refreshing and clearly heartfelt, Walker said in an email. “In addition, her understanding of the behavioral health issues our veterans and their families continue to face is crucial. These include substance dependency, homelessness and suicidal ideation which, sadly, Oregon historically ranks far too high in nationally.”

Daniels has a doctorate and master’s degree of business administration and bachelor’s degree in organizational management.

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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry, who has more than 30 years of journalism experience, is Oregon Capital Chronicle's editor-in-chief. She previously was editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site; reported on health in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio.

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