Earlier this year, thirty or so soldiers sat in a classroom in Vicenza, Italy on their way out of the Army. Collectively, this group spent over fifty years deployed, but we wouldn’t even spend a full week on preparing for civilian life, as the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) had been cut from the full five days into just over three. Jill Casey, our remarkable instructor, was professional about her disappointment in this, but she was clearly concerned about the cuts it forced her to make.
Because of Storm the Hill, I was able to take her concerns directly to President Obama’s senior director for Defense policy during a meeting at the White House.
I’m going to take advantage of the informal nature of blogging to blatantly repeat myself here: A problem was carried directly from soldiers on the ground to senior White House staff because of IAVA and the efforts of its own staff during the Storm the Hill. That is the power of this program and this organization. By my rough count, there are at least half-a-dozen layers of bureaucracy which were therefore skipped in a single graceful step.
I know each of those layers includes people genuinely concerned about veterans being successful, but those concerns are slowly eroded by other priorities. I doubt those in the process even realize it happens. Those who decide how much support veterans get on their way out the door are generally staying in the military themselves – the challenges new veterans will be facing in mere weeks are still a hazy, distant thought.
Twenty-five of us facing these challenges were at the White House, which to its great credit, took ample time to listen and asked detailed questions about both specific issues and broader priorities. My comments about TAP class being cut short were in response to one such question - how exactly can TAP can be improved? We have learned, after 140 meetings this week with congressmen, senators, and staff, to tell the difference between polite listening and the real concern showed by White House officials.
And yet, that concern must translate into results. Change often fails to occur in politics not because of outright opposition to it but because the momentum for it is sapped by unrelated challenges. It’s an election year. The Supreme Court just heard arguments about the health care mandate. Everything eventually runs into the same bottleneck: time.
The only way to overcome that is by keeping our leaders focused on veterans’ issues. The White House staff said that our stories – your stories – are what will keep their energy up when the political process inevitably grinds it down. These stories can be difficult to tell; fixing the TAP workshop is nothing compared to talking about extended unemployment or friends lost to suicide. But the 2.4 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan would have been damn proud of the people representing them in that room.
Every day which passes sees more veterans unable to find jobs, being taken advantage of by exploitive for-profit schools, and facing mental health challenges. Some of these problems require large-scale efforts, but others require only the change of a single small rule. Those of us who Stormed the Hill last week need your continued engagement – if you’re a vet, let IAVA know how we can help. If you aren’t, then lend your support and let your representatives know how much vets matter. Storm the Hill may be over, but the momentum it created cannot be allowed to disappear.
Missed all the action at Storm the Hill 2012? Meet all the Stormers and follow our updates from the week here .