04/19/2012 02:53 pm ET Updated Jun 19, 2012

On the Hill for Vets' Rights

During the week of March 26 to March 30, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) held their annual Storm the Hill Campaign in Washington, D.C. Storm the Hill is IAVA's premiere advocacy and leadership development program. They bring dozens of diverse Iraq and Afghanistan veterans from across the country to Washington to meet with lawmakers, tell their stories and urge them to pass targeted legislation. In prior years, they've focused on passing the New GI Bill, securing Advanced Funding for VA healthcare and improving the disability reform process. This year, as was the case in 2011, they're focusing on fighting veteran unemployment.

America's best veteran career-training program, the New Post-9/11 GI Bill, is at risk. And IAVA is fighting to protect it from predatory for-profit schools so veterans get the career-ready education they've earned. At Storm the Hill 2012, IAVA called for Congress to protect the New GI Bill that makes career-ready education possible for thousands of new veterans across the country.

This was my second time at Storm the Hill, taking a week "off" from my day job as a Junior Network Engineer with the Long Island Rail Road. Last year, we pushed Congress to take action to get veteran unemployment under control. We did that with bipartisan support of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, which was the only jobs bill that came out of Congress last year. This year we are calling on Congress to protect the Post-911 GI Bill from some of the bad actors in the for-profit education industry.

Would you allow your son or daughter to attend a school that has a 56 percent dropout rate? Unfortunately, this is what some of our veterans are dealing with. So our policy agenda this year looks to solve this in three ways by improving transparency, fixing loopholes and expanding training for veteran entrepreneurs. There's a huge loophole right now that does not classify the GI Bill and Department of Defense education benefits as government funds, and that needs to be remedied.

As a Marine Corps veteran that has deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I can attest to the fact that there is nothing like being around other veterans. This is especially true when we come together with a common purpose. It was a very emotional, but rewarding week as we all told each other and our elected officials of our stories and challenges. I was able to tell my story of having to take an entry level PC Technician position with Long Island Bus, even though I was more than qualified. I proved myself with two promotions in three years and I strongly feel that is a testament to the value that veterans bring to the workforce when given the opportunity.

I was a member of Team Alpha this year, which included meetings with New York officials Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy. The average unemployment rate for Post-9/11 veterans in New York is 16.7 percent, so highlighting that is a good way to discuss ways to get that under control. Unemployment and underemployment continues to be a problem for our newest veterans and we need ways at the federal, state, local and private sector level to get a handle on this.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's Storm The Hill reinforced one thing to me: Whether fighting in combat or at home, our strength in each other is unstoppable!!

Find out more about IAVA's successful Storm the Hill campaign here.

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