The heart of veteran advocacy

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Members work to create change nationwide

From left: DAV Chapter 10, Fairfax, Va., Judge Advocate Erwin Schultze and National Interim Legislation Committee member Jim Procunier meet with Virginia Rep. Dave Brat on Capitol Hill to discuss veterans’ issues and legislative priorities on behalf of DAV.

Several years ago, the DAV National Interim Legislation Committee helped update the Benefits Protection Team program to drive DAV’s legislative agenda forward, and encourage veterans and supporters to advocate for veterans at all levels of government. The goal was to unify and solidify DAV’s message to Congress, the administration and the American people.

Since the program’s reintroduction in 2015, DAV members from across the country have rallied together to ensure the collective voice of the organization is heard at local, state and national levels—with significant results. DAV’s grassroots advocacy helped halt plans to terminate Individual Unemployability compensation for older veterans and stop Congress from rounding down disability compensation cost-of-living allowances.

“We successfully meet our legislative goals because of DAV members who are willing to speak up about issues that matter most,” said National Legislative Director Joy Ilem. “Injured and ill veterans and their families are the driving force behind our grassroots initiatives—and their influence is so powerful because they are the ones most affected by these issues.”

In 2017, members and supporters sent 209,462 emails to Congress through DAV CAN (Commander’s Action Network), a system that delivers information to stakeholders and provides them a simple way to take action.

“Advocacy is not a spectator sport,” said Al Labelle, chairman of the 2017–2018 Interim Legislation Committee and the Benefits Protection Team leader for the DAV Department of Wisconsin. “When DAV makes legislative presentations on Capitol Hill, the message is always enhanced by our members and supporters contacting their congressional members.”

Far from sitting on the sidelines, team leaders and members build strong relationships with lawmakers at home to help ensure DAV’s message doesn’t get stuck within the limits of the nation’s capital but rather, continues to resonate in their states and local districts.

“Every veteran should not only get involved with DAV CAN, but with the legislative process in their local area as well,” said Jim Procunier, a DAV National Interim Legislation Committee member (2017–2018). “Every benefit, every dollar spent for veterans programs, begins as an idea that becomes law. That’s why I became involved with the legislative process years ago. DAV members need to take their ideas and turn them into resolutions so we can champion them.”

A toolkit is available for anyone looking for a more effective way to discuss veterans’ issues with their legislators. It contains educational materials on the legislative process as well as resources to help prepare volunteers for advocacy on every level.

Having a unified approach to advocacy puts the strength of DAV’s more than 1 million members and supporters behind every action taken in Washington. It is an important time to strengthen our advocacy efforts so VA health care reform is done in the best interest of veterans, existing benefits are protected, and future benefits are developed in line with what matters to those who have served.

“I want to thank every Benefits Protection Team leader we currently have in the program,” added Ilem. “We created this movement to ensure threats to veterans health care and benefits are taken seriously, and that lawmakers and the general public know we won’t back down. Because of our tireless advocates sounding the alarm at all levels of government across the country, we’re being heard and change is happening.”

“The covenant between the government and veterans is sacred,” said Labelle. “It begins on the first day of enlistment and lasts throughout the course of a veteran’s life. The role of all advocates is to see that this covenant is upheld by Congress and the administration. The main reason I have taken on this role is to see the sacrifices made by the men and women who served is properly honored.”

 

Learn more

Go to dav.org/grassroots to access the Benefits Protection Team toolkit and to get involved with DAV’s advocacy mission.