What I've Learned As A Veteran-Advocate

Written by: Angela Peacock, 2019 VFW-SVA Legislative Fellow, SVA Student Veteran of the Year Finalist, and 2018-19 President of Washington University in St. Louis Student Veterans Association (WUVets).

 

Angela Peacock at the White House

 

Being selected as one of nine Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)-  Student Veterans of America (SVA) Legislative Fellows was the experience of a lifetime.  We were in town during Jared Lyon’s testimony before a Joint Hearing of the House and Senate’s Veterans Affairs Committees. I wanted to share my perspective of the whole week as a fellow, and my experience as a witness to the SVA testimony presented before Congress.

This cohort of fellows and I have all been working since December to pull together a small portfolio on the policy issues we care most about. Some of us focused on transition, medical marijuana, others on oral health and gym memberships, burn pits and suicide. The issue I am most passionate about is polypharmacy, the overprescription of benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Klonopin) within our population and how that relates to the suicide epidemic and poor outcomes for military veterans. All of us had first-hand experience with each of our policy areas and were subject matter experts. Each of us were ready to fight for YOU.     

VFW and SVA rolled out the red carpet for us all week. First, we met with Scout Comms and Military Times and were put on the spot to do an elevator pitch in front of everyone after having just arrived. It went pretty well for just getting off the plane.

                     

From left to right: Eric Gage, Angela Peacock, and Calvin Jensen.

 

We each talked one-on-one with staffers that were working on or had heard of our issues for inside knowledge of how best to strategically approach our members of Congress, how to piggy-back on other “hot topics” and how to network with others who are working on the same issues.

For the next two days, we tagged along with our VFW delegations from our state. I met men fighting hard to bring your voices to Congress and some have been doing this every year, for more than 25 years! It made me realize just how important it is for Post 9/11 veterans to get involved with policy by being active members of a veterans service organization (VSO). The men and women who were here from all 50 states aren’t getting any younger and if we don’t fill their shoes, here in D.C., who will advocate for us as we age?

                  

The 2019 VFW - SVA Legislative Fellows

 

We went on to meet the Deputy Director of VA, James Byrne, members of the Office of Public Liaison, and Drew Trojanowski, Special Assistant to the President on Veterans’ Issues, who wrote the very legislation I was advocating to push through the House with my recommendations for policy change.

Last was the presentation of Student Veterans of America’s legislative priorities. Jared Lyon represented us so well. Of all the VSOs, Congress had the most questions for SVA and seemed genuinely excited about the rollout of the Forever GI Bill and ensuring implementation goes smoothly. We student veterans who benefit from the GI Bill must continue to exceed nationwide graduation rates, GPA’s and our own dreams. Female student veterans are close to being the majority in student veteran organization leadership positions! Do not underestimate a student veteran being supported by the Post 9/11/ Forever GI Bill.

                              

SVA's Joint Hearing of Legislative Priorities.

 

Participating in the VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship taught me a lot about what it means to be a veteran advocate. I’d like to share a few other things I learned:

  • People are open to hearing about your policy focus, especially if you have personal experience in that area. However, you have to tame your passion a little and speak from a calm, evidence-based center of authority.
  • Talk less and listen more. Let them ask you questions and have answers ready.
  • When you see an opportunity to talk to someone about your policy area, or to introduce yourself, TAKE THE OPPORTUNITY.  At one point, I literally ran across the room to introduce myself to Leo Shane from the Military Times. When would I ever have the chance to do that again?
  • Once people get to know you, they are more open to your ideas. Seek not to persuade so quickly. Be patient, and make friends first.
  • Most importantly, offer yourself as a resource. We did the research, we have lived these issues and we suffer the consequences of inaction on important issues.

The last evening of the week we attended a congressional reception with student veterans, staffers, and VFW members from all over the country. As I stood in a room full of veterans who have served overseas, change makers from the “four corners” and people that genuinely care about veterans, I was so humbled to be standing among this caliber of American citizens.

 

Angela Peacock and VFW representatives.

 

Getting involved with the VSO of your choosing is both educational and rewarding. The time to get involved is now. The future of policy advocacy is on our shoulders. As I graduate this year and move from being a student veteran to an alumnus, I will be looking for you on Capitol Hill

 

 Want to get involved? Check out the VFW-SVA Fellowship page here to learn more.

  

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