Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans Demand Action from Congress Before Adjournment

Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans Demand Action from Congress Before Adjournment

CONTACT: Carlisle Williams (212) 982-9699 or press@iava.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans Demand Action from Congress Before Adjournment

“Winter Storm” Highlights VA Backlog, Four Veteran & Defense Bills Ready for a Vote

WASHINGTON, DC (December 10, 2013) – At a time when the VA disability claims backlog has risen two consecutive weeks and stands at more than 400,000 veterans, when post-9/11 veteran unemployment is at 9.9%, and when more and more servicemembers are returning from combat, veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America  (IAVA) are converging in Washington for the inaugural IAVA Winter Storm.  Beginning today, IAVA Winter Storm continues the efforts of IAVA’s Storm the Hill in March, which shined a spotlight on the veteran community’s policy priorities.  Now, as we approach the end of the year and as Washington reaches new levels of gridlock and dysfunction, IAVA will urge Washington to renew focus on the backlog and to demand Congress stay in session until it brings up four bills that are ready for a vote.

“The snow in Washington this week pales to the bigger Winter Storm of veterans demanding accountability and action from politicians. Now is the time for Washington to renew its focus on the VA backlog and to act on critical veterans legislation,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of IAVA. “Congress owes it to our nation’s veterans to stay in session and get the job done. With the holiday season here, the best gift we can give to our veterans is passage of life-changing legislation and a disability claims system that doesn’t make you wait an average of five months.  The year is ending, and Congress must act now.”

IAVA will be attending a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Russell 418, where VA officials will address the VA disability claims backlog, which has risen in recent weeks after months of progress. Monday night, VA announced that the backlog rose by 2,744 to 404,306 veterans waiting more than 125 days.  To see the human cost of the backlog, please visit TheWaitWeCarry.org. IAVA’s groundbreaking interactive tool features the real stories of thousands of vets and shows how the backlog is an every day hardship for veterans and their families across the country.

Throughout the week, IAVA will be urging Congress to address the following top priorities before adjourning:

1. Fully fund the VA in advance – HR 813 and S 932, cosponsored by Congressman Miller (R-FL), Rep Michaud (D-ME), Senator Begich (D-AK) and Senator Boozman (R-AK). These bills would fully fund the entire VA one year in advance. This means that when Congress is late with the budget (or shuts down the government) the VA already has its next year’s budget on the books. The bill also allows the VA to plan ahead for the modernization efforts currently underway. 

2. Combat sexual assault in the military by passing The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2014 (cosponsored by Congressman Buck McKeon (R-CA), Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA), and Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and James Inhofe (R-OK)) and the Military Justice Improvement Act (sponsored by Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)). The NDAA has a robust package of reforms that would combat Military Sexual Assault. The MJIA is a bill that will improve the military justice system. The bills will now be voted on separately.

3. Charge in-state tuition for all veterans using GI Bill – HR 357 and S 944, cosponsored by Congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL), Congressman Mike Michaud (D-ME), Senator John Boozman (R-AK), Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL). These bills would require all schools that accept GI Bill dollars to charge the in-state tuition rate for veterans using the GI Bill. This closes a loophole where vets who – due to their military service – aren’t legal residents of any state, get stuck with a bill for the education that the GI Bill was supposed to cover.

4. Ratify The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). This is a treaty that would establish international standards based on the Americans with Disabilities Act. Based on America’s leadership in establishing these standards, it will ensure that Americans with disabilities will encounter better accessibility when traveling abroad. This treaty is supported by former Senator Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS) and Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

On social media IAVA is urging supporters to show their support by using the hashtag #FinishThe4.  This hashtag urges Congress not to go home until it finishes the top four priorities for troops and vets that are ready for a floor vote.

Below are some of the stories of the Post-9/11 IAVA veterans who will be on Capitol Hill meeting with their Representatives and Senators and advocating Congress to “Finish the Four”:

Rachel McNeil is a Wisconsin native, and currently lives in Allston, Massachusetts. She joined the Army Reserves in 2002 and deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, in December 2004 where she served for a year as a heavy construction equipment operator and member of her company’s convoy security team in the Salah ad-Din and Anbar provinces. In 2007, Rachel participated in Operation New Horizons building roads, clinics, and schools in Panama. She was medically retired from the Army in 2010. Rachel has an associate’s degree in visual communications and media design, and is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in international relations and history at Harvard University. She works on the steering committee for Warrior Writers and is active with local veteran and community organizations. 

Dock Revisky is from south Chicago. He signed up for field artillery with the Army when he was 20, and was sent to Ft. Benning in Georgia to fight with the 3rd Infantry Division. Dock spent two years in Iraq, conducted over 500 combat patrols, shot hundreds of 155mm rounds, and lost some friends in the process. He left the Army on Christmas Day 2010 and graduated from the University of South Florida with a BA in International Relations in December 2012. Currently, his fiancée, an Air Force officer, and he are planning their wedding while Dock pursues his MPA at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. The issues for which IAVA is advocating are close to his heart. Dock’s little brother just returned from war with a diagnosis of PTSD, and Dock is nervous he won’t get the treatment he needs. Dock has had friends end their lives because dealing with civilian life after the horrors of war was too hard. 

Michael Blazer currently lives in Lebanon, Tennessee. He spent eight years in the U.S. Army as a Blackhawk mechanic/crew chief. Michael deployed twice during his time in service. He spent one year in Afghanistan and two months in Iraq. Michael also spent a year in Honduras. He is currently attending Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, in hopes of becoming a music producer. Veterans’ benefits are extremely important to him. They have allowed him to go to a private school, among many other opportunities. Michael’s goal is to ensure that every returning veteran gets those same opportunities. 

Lincoln Capstick is a resident of Indianapolis, IN.  He ended his term of service with the 310th ESC. Lincoln spent 8 years between the Army Reserve and activations between 2002 and 2010. Officially, a logistics NCO, he never did his job, but instead did a swarm of other missions. Between 2004 and 2005 he was deployed to Kuwait and did missions around the Iraq/Kuwait border. Despite the challenges of the deployment, the times we were able to give food and water to children were the best parts. After returning home, Lincoln was separated from active orders and released back to civilian life in less than a week. This transition was difficult at best, and there was no support as a TPU Reservist. Lincoln joined IAVA hoping to assist his fellow veterans, and will strive for that goal for the rest of his life. 

Samuel “JD” Jesudason is a resident of Ann Arbor, MI.  He left the Marine Corps in 2003 after five years and one deployment to Iraq. HIs transition home was tough, as he faced unemployment. He moved in with the woman who is now his wife and found his footing again. “JD” is currently in his final year of law school, but is facing the end of his educational funding this semester. 

Note to media: Please email press@iava.org.if you would like to schedule an interview with a veteran.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (www.IAVA.org) is the nation’s first and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization representing veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and has more than 270,000 Member Veterans and civilian supporters nationwide. IAVA recently received the highest rating – four-stars – from Charity Navigator, America’s largest charity evaluator.

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