Two dozen VVA members from across
the country journeyed to VVA national headquarters in Silver
Spring in October to participate in a first-ever advocacy
training workshop. Some, like Missouri State Council president
Alan Gibson and Jeff White, his counterpart from Pennsylvania,
were veterans coming to seek some pointers and glean some
insights that might make them more effective advocates. The
vast majority, though, were news: they hoped this
two-and-a-half-day session would be an opportunity to learn
from those who advocate for veterans on behalf of VVA.
They didn't return home disappointed.
The workshop, the brainchild of VVA president Tom Corey and
Rick Weidman, Director of Government Relations, was not
conceived as a theoretical exercise based on hypothetical
situations. It was designed to provide hands-on experience.
Two key points were stressed: Successful advocacy is
based on ongoing relationships of mutual interest. And success
in advocacy requires active follow-up; it doesn't happen
because you've made a single, sincere pilgrimage to a
senator's office in Washington or a representative's district
office back home to make the case for health care funding or
concurrent receipt or testing veterans for hepatitis C.
"If our partners go back home with these two concepts firmly
embedded in their minds, they'll have learned what it takes
many advocates years to comprehend," said Weidman.
Eddie Gleason of the Department of Government Relations took
the lead in preparing an individual book for each participant
containing a wealth of information about federal and state
offices and programs. It described the process most bills
undergo to become law.
Modules on the processes of government were led or addressed
by Linda Boone, executive director of the National Coalition
of Homeless Veterans; Len Sistek, Democratic Staff Director
for Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House
Committee on Veterans' Affairs; Jim Holley, Staff Director for
the Democrats on the Committee; and Pat Ryan, Jim's Republican
counterpart. A section on media relations was choreographed by
VVA's national Communications staff, led by Mokie Porter.
A key facet of the workshop was role-playing: VVA staffers
ad-libbed skits on winning friends and influencing
legislators. Participants, in turn, were given roles and asked
to role-play as well. They also received real hands-on
experience by calling, setting up appointments, and visiting
offices of their state's elected officials. At the end of each
day, participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire to
gauge their reactions to the day's events.
Was this a valuable learning tool? Participants felt so. Among
the testimonials anonymously offered were these: "It has
taught me how to prepare for a meeting with a legislator," one
wrote. Echoed another: "I can personally be more
effective in promoting issues of value to veterans, and I can
lead others in the same direction." And another: "No doubt
about it. I feel more comfortable approaching legislators.
Also, I feel more informed. And I have more tools to work with
in accomplishing my task."
Based on the responses to the questionnaire, the Government
Relations staff also learned some things: how to improve on
its initial effort. These lessons will be incorporated into
the next advocacy workshop, which will be held in March in
conjunction with the spring Board meeting. An
announcement will be made as soon as the dates are finalized.