To be truthful I didn’t know what to expect so I went with an open mind. I arrive Monday night and due to the plane landing late I was a little late for Dinner with John Wells at the Capitol Hill Club. Also at the dinner was an intern John has that keeps him in line and Matt Hill, for those of you who don’t know Matt is the Attorney for the Gray vs McDonald Case.
John told us how the meeting with Sloan Gibson went. They had a 30 minute appointment but Sloan Gibson gave them an extra 15 minutes. John told us that the Deputy Secretary was very receptive to the information and seen to understand everything.
On Tuesday we had meeting with Staff Members for Senator Ayotte, Senator Kaine, Senator Warner, Represenitive Titus, Gretchan Blum (Legislative Assistant Committee on Veterans Affairs), Jorge Rueda (Counsel Committee on Veterans Affairs), and Representative Abraham himself. Representative Abraham asked some question and was very interested in what I had to say about my cancer. Every one seems to be very interested and asked some question. Most of the meets were very positive. In one of these meeting we were told that the Markup meeting maybe delayed and that the VA was still not responding with their comments. I believe at the time we figured that they would remove S-681 from the Markup.
On Wednesday we had meeting with Staff Members for Senator Hatch, Senator Boozman, Senator Manchin, Senator Reid, Senator Capito, Senator Heller and Senator Heller himself. Senator Heller was only in the room for about 7 minutes but he seemed somewhat interested and was going to get filled in by his Staff Member. We also had a lunch meeting with the former staff director of the DAMA Subcommittee of the House Vets Committee.
On Thursday morning we started the day attending a “Coffee Meeting” that Senator Durbin had. During the meeting Michael Little from AUSN asked why he decided to Co-Sponsor S-681 and he said “because it is the right thing to do”. We did get to talk to him a little before the talk began. We also has our picture taken with him. After the meeting we had to rush off to a meeting with a Staff Member for Representative Brat. During this meeting the guy stopped John during his talk and said that he could get all that information from all the stuff we were leaving him, what he wanted to do is hear from me, he wanted my story. So I told him everything and he seem to like want I said.
From all these meeting here is some of the things I learned:
- The Members of Congress and their staff really don’t know much about how a ship works.
- They don’t really understand the bill, but then again I don’t think a lot of us really understand the bill.
- Most of these people do care about us.
- Contacting them does make a big difference. The more people contact them, the more it has an effect on how they feel about a bill.
- We all can write standard letters to them just asking them to support the bill but it has a bigger effect if you really do tell them “your story”.
- When we were in the meeting with a Staff Member for the Committee of Veterans Affairs, it was made clear that we may be making a difference. If you remember we have had Chairman Johnny Isakson as a pick of the week a little while back. They saw more contacts coming in. Maybe it was just a fluke but other Staff Members had said the same thing.
- If by some miracle the VA decided to change their rules back to the way they were back between 1991 and 2002, DO NOT jump for joy. You need to remember that we once had the benefit BUT the Secretary of the VA at that time removed them so we ALL should start working harder to make sure that these bills are passed.
This was a good experience for me and I learned a lot. I do believe that the bill will be passed. I am not worry about a few bumps in the road we are having, I think I would worry more if there were none because I would wonder what they were planning. I would rather see some fight in the VA right now so they can “Save Face” than to give in and pull a fast one later.
Where do we go from here? I think we need to work as hard as we can to write letter, make posting and do what ever we can to make it known we are here and will not go away. We also need to do it in a calm and respectful. We don’t need to go off cocked and start yelling and lose any respect we have gained.
We need to have trust in groups like Military-Veterans Advocacy, AUSN, FRA, Blue Water Navy and others that are working hard to help get these bills passed. These groups are well known on Capitol Hill and I think they have respect there. We need to offer any help we can. It doesn’t have to be money (it does help them do more). You can make phone calls, you can write letters, you can post on Facebook in other groups and you can share information with others. I still find more Blue Water Vets and family members of Blue Water Vets that have no idea that these bills exist and can help them. You don’t have to ask them to join this group but as you may know we do get information early and it gets posted where some groups it take days to get the information out there. I just found a large group that just got the information we had over two weeks ago.