Earlier this week, IAVA said goodbye to a great leader and advocate for veterans. For the last 3 years Jonathan Schleifer led IAVA’s policy team to major victories for veterans and their families. With Jonathan at the helm, VA health care became immune to the whims of the budget fight, the GI Bill was vastly expanded and improved, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, thousands of vets have or will find it easier to get a job, and millions will better understand the challenges that our veterans and their families face every day.
Jonathan is heading back to the world of education, joining the leadership at Educators 4 Excellence , where he will help make America the education powerhouse it needs by ensuring that the voices of classroom teachers are included in the decision-making process. We know that they will benefit from his leadership as much as we have.
When Jonathan came to IAVA, he had the daunting task of succeeding one of IAVA’s first employees. Vanessa Williamson was there in the beginning and was the one who was sent to DC to permanently plant IAVA’s flag in the ground. Needless to say, he had some big shoes to fill.
I was there during his first interview. We were packed into one room in our former offices in a ramshackle townhouse on Capitol Hill. Jonathan had no idea what he was getting into; he sat in a room with three combat vets who were hellbent on grilling a guy whose hair was a little too long and suit was a little too fancy – in our opinions, at least. He was a civilian, and we didn’t think he had a chance. Underestimating Jonathan has been the downfall of many, and we proved no exception. He took our guff, gave us some back and nailed the interview. In the 3 years since, he has dedicated every day toward the mission, and the people we serve. He has improved the lives of veterans everywhere, especially the crew in the DC office. His vision and leadership allowed IAVA to expand beyond activism, and into the leading voice for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans here in the political capital of America.
Jonathan exemplifies all the qualities that the military teach about being a leader. He listens, he understands, and then he thinks and decides. Hundreds of thousands of vets will never know his name but have benefitted from his leadership. In the military we expect out leaders to be quiet professionals and although he never served, he is on par with or even better than any officer that I ever served with. I genuinely feel bad for the poor guy or gal that has to follow him. We are sad to see him go, but wish him the best of luck. Jonathan, thank you for your service.