There are 12,000 lobbyists in Washington. They represent anything and everything from big tobacco to Styrofoam. And they have Congress' ear every day of the year. Unfortunately, most of us don't have that kind of political pull. And neither does our veterans' community -- even though they deserve it. That's why, this week, IAVA is storming Capitol Hill.
For the seventh year in a row, we're sending a nonpartisan group of IAVA members -- 26 vets from across the country -- to Washington, D.C. for our "Storm The Hill" campaign. And we're coming armed with alarming survey results direct from our membership -- results that show the unemployment rate among IAVA members is nearly 17%, almost 10 percentage points higher than the national average, and about 5 percentage points higher than the 11.6% reported for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in 2011. Those 5 percentage points could represent as many as 100,000 unemployed vets. That's roughly the population of Green Bay, Wisconsin.
But beyond all the data and number crunching, one thing rings clear and true: government hasn't made the investment in the new veterans' community they've said they would. This needs to end -- and it needs to end now.
Every year, IAVA storms the Hill to ask Washington to step up. Not by hiring lobbyists or creating a super PAC, but through the power of grassroots organizing (with a social media fuel injection). When we asked our membership if they think Congress listens to new vets enough, 75% said no. Shocking? Maybe -- vets are like most Americans.
But they're also not happy with their most direct line of support after service: the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). It consistently struggles to connect with and understand this new generation of veterans. Based on our survey, 61% are signed up for VA health care. But less than half (49%) think the VA is doing a good job of reaching out to troops and veterans regarding their mental health injuries and care. Worse, nearly 69% can't name the Secretary of the VA (Eric Shinseki).
Speaking of the Secretary, IAVA came down to DC this week to share our survey results with him. We submitted a meeting request more than a month ago, only to find out on Monday, just as our 26 vets hit boots on the ground, that the Secretary doesn't have time to meet with them this week. While we understand busy schedules -- some of our Stormers have been waiting nearly two years for VA claims and evaluations. Not to mention, it's been 1,111 days since the Secretary last met with us as the largest new vets' group in America. With a 17% unemployment rate, we need his help because if anything, we're all in this together, right?
This week, 12,000 lobbyists against 26 Iraq and Afghanistan vets might seem like impossible odds in Washington. But we're taking our chances. We're not here for money, we're here to make a difference -- and we're already getting things done. On Tuesday, our vets helped introduce the GI Bill Consumer Awareness Act of 2012, a smart defense against fraud, waste and abuse by for-profit schools recruiting vets. But we need to keep up the momentum, and that's where you come in. Our 26 vets on Capitol Hill and the 2.4 million veterans behind them need you to help level the playing field this week.
For over a decade, our vets have been leading the way overseas. It's about time we welcome them back with jobs so they can lead the way at home. Because really, if we can't support the folks we ask to fight and die for our country, then it's about time for a national gut-check.
A better way to show the thanks of a grateful nation -- more than any parade or handshake or embrace -- is to make certain that all veterans have a fair shot at building an America worthy of our service.
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