After having what it called a “roller coaster” year that included scandalous details of waiting-list issues and appointment delays that may have led to the death of some veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is declaring that the direction it is headed in 2015 is the right one. In its performance and accountability report […]
Written by Joshua Pattton,
Military people do things differently. We are a task-oriented group. When given a mission, we focus on completing it as quickly and efficiently as possible (albeit this is often so that we can get to chow sooner). I recently began working in the English Department at the University of Pittsburgh with some other undergraduates and have seen this evidenced by how they approach a task and how uncomfortable they are when there is nothing to do. In my previous positions, along with work ethic my colleagues that are former military have a deeper set of values than most of their non-military counterparts. To us, loyalty, integrity, and teamwork are a way of life and not corporate buzzwords. That the number of unemployed veterans is disproportionate to civilians is mind-boggling, but especially so when one considers the intrinsic value of having a veteran in your corporate ranks. IAVA is looking to change that by flooding to the halls of Washington with what Deputy Executive Director Todd Bowers calls “hardcore professionals.”
This week the IAVA ran headfirst into Storm the Hill 2011. Staff and members have divided into teams to meet with representatives from both the Legislative and Executive branches of government, including the President himself. Bowers leads Team Delta on what he describes as a “mini-deployment,” in that these volunteers are putting in long hours but are driven to deliver the concerns of veterans to the doorsteps of as many people in the government as possible.
It’s a busy week in Washington. The second of two hearings before the House and Senate Veterans’ Committees happened Wednesday where a number of Veterans Service Organizations testified, but the IAVA did not have a presence there. “It’s a lot easier to watch [the hearings] streaming live than to actually spend time in the meeting,” Bowers says in rapid, staccato speech, honed to keep conversational pace with fast-talking politicians. The strategy for the week is to meet with officials individually or in small groups. Because, unlike Bowers and the other D.C. staff, most of the troops at Storm the Hill are just member-veterans to whom these problems aren’t “issues” or “disheartening” or in any way theoretical. These problems are their problems. And they are focused.
The main focus of this year’s efforts will be on veteran unemployment. Veterans face a higher unemployment rate than civilians, while officially at 12.5% many believe that it is closer to 20%. With respect to the problems facing the US Economy as a whole, Bowers said, “It makes no sense that they can’t find jobs.” Laurie Emmer, a member-veteran in DC this week, posted on Facebook “Memo to self today at Storm the Hill, I pledge I will not idly stand by and watch the Senator walk by without at least pouncing up and doing the 30 second pitch for vets unemployment.” Such is the focus of these amateur activists. Although according to Bowers what sets them apart is their professionalism. “We’re coming with all of the facts…a tremendous amount of information, but more importantly we are bringing people to the hill that are dealing with these issues now.”
A few representatives have walls in their offices dedicated to the fallen servicemembers from their districts. Bowers sent a picture of such a wall to his followers on Twitter outside the offices of Representative Phil Gringey (R-GA). Such a display of support is moving, however the IAVA members are reminding the representatives that they can also honor those who lived. “In combat you can’t control where [violence happens]. That’s the intricacies of war. It’s impossible to predict but taking care of service members is something we can do. We can make it happen.”
The current political narrative being played out is one where America can no longer afford to spend any money. This same week, the Tea Party outright lifted the terminology the IAVA is using for a rally of their own. While they are not working counter to the IAVA this week, the focus of their rally is on cutting spending and the overall budget. Yet, Todd Bowers isn’t worried. “What we do now can save us money in the long run.” With their fiscally responsible plan, what the IAVA asks is not to spend a lot of money and what is spent has a direct impact on the economy. Let’s hope over 100 meetings in 5 days has that same sort of impact.
(Full Disclosure: Joshua M. Patton is an active member of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America)