IAVA | March 31, 2020
Read: My Storm the Hill Experience
Submitted by: Cinthya Fana, IAVA Director, Organization Development
Storm the Hill (STH) was one of the most impactful experiences I’ve had at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). I was in the unique position that I attended as a staff member and as an Afghanistan war veteran. STH was an opportunity for me to speak with members of Congress and their staff about my experiences as a veteran as they relate to IAVA’s Big 6 priorities.
Also, it was an opportunity for me to interact with other veterans whose experiences are different than mine. Not only did we all get to improve our leadership skills, but we also got to see how change is truly made on Capitol Hill. Before I joined IAVA, I did not know how Veteran Service Organizations (VSO) affect policy and legislation. Here are some of the things I learned during my week at Storm the Hill:
You build connections
The military is unique in the fact that you develop bonds that are often incomparable to any other relationships you build elsewhere. Regardless of which branch we served in, we all have something in common, and we feel it as soon as we get together in a room. STH gave me the opportunity to meet other veterans and to share the camaraderie that we all love and miss.
Working together towards a common goal, we bring our unique experiences to Capitol Hill to impact legislation. Of the 22 veterans that attended STH, I was in a group of 7 veterans. The way we interacted with each other was as if we had known each other for years. That is something we all learned in the military and got to showcase during STH and beyond. Now that I have met those wonderful 22 Stormers, I truly believe I have 22 new friends and maybe future colleagues.
Awareness is key
Speaking with different members of Congress and their staffers gave us the opportunity to make a difference. I noticed that some of the staffers were either newly-assigned to veteran issues or had little knowledge of the struggles veterans go through. It was a unique chance for us to speak about our experiences and “school” them on how we each struggle differently. We could see in their faces that they have never heard of the struggles we face, and they seemed very concerned. We could see, as veterans, how our stories were shaping the way those staffers thought about veterans and the ways they can help.
On the other hand, other staffers were very knowledgeable about what legislation is out there to improve the lives of veterans. I truly believe that every time VSOs visit congressional offices, we educate them and give them actionable steps on how they can make real change. It’s been said that “veterans are not a charity, they are an investment”, and awareness is key to ensuring that policymakers know that investing in the health and well-being of veterans is the best way to ensure the success of our country.
Nothing changes if nothing changes
This was my third STH, and I believe the most important. I have learned that, of the 22 veterans that die by suicide every day, 16 of them are not enrolled in the VA healthcare system. That is truly shocking, and I do not believe most of the public knows that. STH is an effective way for us to inform the public and create awareness. IAVA’s latest member survey is a great way for the general public to understand what our members believe are the key issues we need to focus on. As well, we were on social media to lead the narrative being told about veterans and to educate the public about real issues facing this generation of veterans. I believe the amount of attention we received during STH was invaluable! If we all do our part, we can save lives.
Overall, STH is a great program for those that want to build new connections with people that understand what they’ve been through. It is also a way to improve our leadership skills and most definitely our communication skills, as we were either posting videos or messages on social media or speaking in front of elected officials. Lastly, STH is a great way to improve the lives of veterans everywhere by advocating for legislation that empowers them. I urge all veterans to keep an eye out for our next STH because it is a rewarding experience that you will not get anywhere else.