I joined the IAVA team in January of 2014 as a Veteran Transition Manager (VTM) for IAVA’s Rapid Response Referral Program (RRRP). After working in the mental health and social services field for nearly 10 years, there was one thing I knew with certainty: when given access to support, guidance and effective resources, those experiencing even the most difficult and challenging circumstances, are able to find purpose and a renewed sense of self and belonging, leading them to more stable futures. I came to work for IAVA because RRRP embodies exactly that and was created to provide those necessary supports and resources to improve the lives of veterans and their families.
Veterans contact RRRP seeking assistance with a multitude of challenges ranging from mental health issues, the lack of effective pain management and difficulty accessing VA health and education benefits, to name a few. After being bounced around complex bureaucracies and a fractured mental health system many of our clients feel frustrated and hopeless. RRRP is instrumental in providing streamlined support to effectively intervene and shift the trajectory of our client’s lives toward more positive outcomes. Effective client advocacy is one of the pivotal factors in successfully improving our client’s lives. RRRP’s VTMs are all master-level social service professionals and have a high level of military cultural competencies. We are savvy in navigating complex bureaucracies and advocate for each of our clients with a level of tenacity that is truly unmatched. We know how to get the job done and we successfully link our clients with the resources and supports they need, deserve and are entitled to.
I recently attended our quarterly Storm The Hill which is IAVA’s premiere advocacy and leadership development program. IAVA members came to Washington, D.C. from across the country to discuss with our nation’s leaders the issues that matter most to post 9/11 veterans and their families. The very issues that RRRP clients reach out seeking assistance for. We rolled out our “Big 6” policy agenda for the year: suicide prevention, women veterans, defending the GI Bill, VA reform, burn pits, and access to medical marijuana.
Storm the Hill provides a powerful opportunity for IAVA members to tell their stories and to ensure that they are being heard. I witnessed a striking example of this while storming beside a female combat veteran as she explained how her military service has been questioned on numerous occasions while attempting to access services at her local VA. She shared her personal experience of feeling marginalized everytime she walks into the VA and sees the existing motto that quite literally excludes her because she is a woman, despite her selfless service to her country. The women veterans initiate in IAVA’s Big 6 policy agenda directly addresses these types of barriers for female veterans.
Several of our stormers shared powerful stories related to burn pit and toxic exposures during deployments and the adverse physical impacts they are faced with now that they are home. They expressed frustration with lack of acknowledgement and support from the VA and an uncertain path forward for treatment. These stories are all too familiar and mirror what we are hearing from RRRP clients who reach out to us for support in gaining recognition of their symptoms and accessing effective treatment. These issues along with the rest of the Big 6 policy agenda were revealed during the compelling testimony of IAVA’s Chief Policy Officer, Melissa Bryant before the combined House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Melissa, an Iraq war veteran and one of IAVA’s brilliant and inspiring leaders shared her personal experiences as a female veteran and toxic burn pit exposure and delivered her testimony with authority and poise, representing the issues most important to IAVA’s over 425,000 members.
IAVA’s advocacy efforts, like Storm the Hill, are a call to action demanding that our government change policies and increase funding and support to improve the lives of post 9/11 veterans and their families. Storm the Hill creates a direct pathway facilitating systemic change to pave the way for inclusive, comprehensive and effective access to resources and supports. This deeper, broader level of advocacy is leading the way for the future of our nation’s veterans.
Take a look at what IAVA did during Storm the Hill here.