This week, 30 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans took Capitol Hill by storm. Hailing from 14 different states, they brought diverse military, professional and personal experiences from the battlefield to Washington, D.C. And they made a huge impact.
Our teams (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot and Golf) met with the First Lady at the White House. And they sat down with over 100 Congressional offices and leaders at the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. They shared their stories, their challenges and their hopes for results from Washington.
They stormed for their own reasons:
“I'm walking the halls of congress this week for my brother Darrin Rossi, who committed suicide, and every other vet with the invisible wounds of war.”- Donna Bachler
“I'm walking the halls of congress because my good friend from the Marine Corps hasn't worked for two years and is now selling drugs for income. There has to be a better solution for America’s heroes.” -Tyler Tannahill
“I’m walking the halls of Congress for a good friend Nick Coleman (USMC) who could have been with us had the PTSD and financial stress of unemployment not resulted in his receiving his Taps trumpet.” - Chris Goehner
But they also came to fight for IAVA’s number one policy priority: ending new veteran unemployment.
In 2010, the jobless rate for Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans hit a staggering 11.5 percent, up dramatically from 6.1 percent in 2007. Our newest generation of heroes are leaving the toughest part of the world, and returning home to the toughest job market in decades. I get emails every week from decorated men and women who are having trouble just landing an interview. Other vets tell me stories about blatant job discrimination stemming from concerns about redeployment and stereotypes around the stigma of mental health injuries.
Hugh Conlon is another veteran who walked the halls of Congress with us this week. Hugh is from Augusta, Georgia and served in the Army for 20 years as a Sergeant First Class. He served three combat tours as a medic, most recently as a Senior Medical non-commissioned officer for an Iraqi National Police Brigade in Iraq. Despite his extensive experience as a medic in combat zones, Hugh was unable to find a job in the medical field when he left the Army. He was turned down for positions ranging from driving an ambulance to admitting patients to the hospital -- all because civilian employers didn’t understand his military experience. That’s no way for America to support the troops.
It’s stories like Hugh’s that motivated us all week long on Capitol Hill. We pushed through the rain and the threats of a government shut-down, and we jump-started a national conversation. But we’re just getting started. Storm the Hill is the beginning of a sustained campaign focused on veteran unemployment. All year, we will engage government, private and nonprofit partners to achieve IAVA’s ultimate goal of lowering the unemployment rate for new veterans by Veteran’s Day (11/11/11).
Join Donna, Tyler, Chris, Hugh and other veterans from across America who stormed the Hill this week, and us help make new veteran unemployment a top priority for Capitol Hill, the president, and for all Americans.
Follow Paul Rieckhoff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PaulRieckhoff