On Tuesday, June 26th, I was in Washington, DC, to be an active participant in United Spinal Association/VetsFirst larger Roll on Capitol Hill, made possible by the timely and fortunate merger of the National Spinal Cord Injury Association with our organization.
The previous day in our Nation’s Capital was focused on presentations from United Spinal’s Public Policy staffers and guest speakers about the most important issues facing persons with disabilities today, among them the persistently high unemployment rate among disabled persons and adequate access to complex rehabilitation technology.
More than 60 Americans with spinal cord injury and other spinal cord conditions from 22 separate states participated in this first-time event. From my viewpoint, this Congressional advocacy surge was an unqualified success, and it happened just two days before perhaps the most highly-anticipated U. S. Supreme Court decision in recent memory.
VetsFirst Vice-President of Veterans Policy Ms. Heather Ansley and I had a somewhat different mission than other event attendees: we focused on issues that severely impact disabled veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan such as unemployment and timely access to mental health care. Since I’m a resident of New York State, Ms. Ansley and I met with Senator Charles E. Schumer’s Senior Legislative Assistant for Health issues; Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand’s Legislative Assistants for both Health and Veterans issues; and, Congressman Eliot L. Engel’s Senior Policy Advisor on Medicaid/Medicare issues, as well as his Veterans Legislative Assistant.
Additionally, Ms. Ansley and I met with staff of seven additional U. S. Senators, in alphabetical order, Sen. Kelly A. Ayotte of New Hampshire, Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts and Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont.
While all of these meetings gave us a chance to remind these Representatives and Senators of the price veterans with disabilities have paid in service to our nation, a few stand out, to me anyway.
First, it was very obvious to me that Sen. Schumer’s Senior L.A. really knows the Medicare and Medicaid systems like no other staffer I’ve ever met with in over 40 years of veterans/disability advocacy. And, just meeting with Sen. Burr’s staffperson was critical because the Senator is the ranking Republican Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.
Finally, I had the opportunity to discuss the advantage of wheelchair-accessible taxis that could be owned/operated by vets, and that could serve disabled and aging persons spread out over the vast expanse of rural Alaska with Sen. Begich’s s L.A. This was my top “feel good” moment of the day.
I’m already looking forward to our next Roll On Capitol Hill.
Chair of the VetsFirst Committee