During the week of March 18 to March 22, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) will hold 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 and protecting the New GI Bill, securing Advanced Funding for VA healthcare and improving the disability reform process. This year they're focused on addressing the disgraceful backlog of veteran disability claims.
While it's another year and technically a "vacation" for me from my current job as a Junior Network Engineer with the MTA Long Island Rail Road, I will be back for my third year of participating in IAVA's annual Storm the Hill campaign. There is nothing like leaving work for a while and going out to make a real difference that gets recognized all around. We are bringing combat veterans from across the country together for a week to tell our stories to our elected officials and to fight for our fellow veterans. We are still a nation at war and there are still pressing issues facing our country's newest generation of combat veterans. We have over 100 meetings scheduled, including meeting with members of Congress, White House, Veteran Affairs and the Department of Defense.
Here are a few not so fun facts:
Not So Fun Fact #1: 2.5 million veterans have served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, two of the longest wars in our nation's history.
Not So Fun Fact #2: March 20th marked the ten year anniversary of the start of the Iraq war.
Not So Fun Fact #3: The Department of Veteran Affairs currently has a backlog of nearly 600,000 disability claims from veterans, of which 97 percent is still done on paper. The backlog includes anyone that has waited more than 125 days for their claim to process. In total, there are 900,000 veterans waiting for their disability benefits. This number is expected to soon exceed one million. Personally, I have avoided the claim process because of this.
Not So Fun Fact #4: Current data shows 22 veterans every day are taking their own lives. That's over 8,000 a year. Suicide is the new enemy and we have yet to formulate a solid plan of attack.
While these are sobering facts, I do feel these are issues we can get a better handle on. On Wednesday, IAVA's membership delivered a petition to the White House to demand action to end the VA backlog. We must keep the promise we made to veterans who have served and sacrificed to defend our nation. Feel free to join us & sign this petition now.
Also, something that I think all Americans can get behind is showing their support for our veterans by chipping in.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's Storm the Hill continues to reinforce one thing for me and I hope our elected officials and my fellow Americans understand this: We will NOT go away!!