The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

May/June 2004
FEATURE
   
 

Thomas Insley: Maryland Legislative Veterans Caucus

BY JIM BELSHAW


The Maryland General Assembly recognizes two formal caucusesthe Maryland Legislative Black Caucus and the Women's Caucus. Tom Insley of VVA Chapter 650 and Government Affairs chairman for the Maryland State Council intends to add a third for veterans.

Following a reception on Jan. 21, Insley found he had made more progress than he envisioned. At the reception, Maryland Del. Joan Cadden announced that an informal veterans caucus made up of state legislators would hold its first meeting the next day. Insley was invited to attend.

"I'm really excited about it,'' Insley said. "I didn't know I could do anything like this.''

When Insley took over the Government Affairs chair, he had no experience but said he was willing to "give it a try.'' He began visiting state legislators in Annapolis to find out if there was any interest in establishing the caucus. He was pleased to find legislators expressing such interest, though historically, Insley said, some legislators had not been particularly enthusiastic about addressing veterans' issues.

"Generally, we have found that certain legislators were not friendly toward veterans,'' he said. "Certain people in the legislature have addressed veterans issuessome of them feel-good efforts, some of them meat and potatoes.''

Insley hopes to establish a formal caucus comprising members of the Maryland Senate and House. He envisions a body of people who meet on a regular basis to address issues important to veterans and then bring those concerns to the full legislature.

"I believe it would be a mechanism to establish some sort of continuity among the many veterans service organizations and the legislature,'' Insley said.

Insley said he was apprehensive about gaining the cooperation of other veterans organizations, even though he sees the VVA initiative as encompassing all veterans groups and not just VVA.

"I'm apprehensive,'' he said. "I had some feedback from other veterans groups. Some say we're trying to do the same thing they're doing, but we're not. They're not trying to establish a formal body, as we are. They're just trying to get some legislation passed. They're throwing it out to the General Assembly and hoping somebody picks it up.''

Insley said invitations to the Jan. 21 reception with Maryland legislators went to 14 veterans organizations. Four weeks before the reception was to be held, he had one formal response and had spoken with representatives from three other organizations.

"I honestly don't think they understand what it is we're trying to do,'' he said.

After the first meeting with Del. Cadden, the Democratic legislator sent a letter to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate explaining the proposal for a veterans caucus. Copies of the letter went to other delegates and senators whom Del. Cadden thought might be interested in the effort.

She later met with the Speaker of the House, who gave his approval for an initial establishment of an informal caucus.

"If you can get 20, 30, 40 legislators together, you have some power,'' Insley said.

Insley emphasized the importance of active participation by VVA members in the legislative process. He said that when he began attending an advocacy workshop, he was naive about some of the things he could accomplish, noting that when he "stormed the Hill'' in Washington, he found that some legislative staffers pay attention and that the word gets passed along to representatives and senators.

He found the same thing happening when he stormed the next hillAnnapolis.

"I've been knocking on doors down there, and I visited a number of senators and delegates,'' Insley said. "I heard from an acting secretary a couple of days ago that he's been hearing my name down there a little bit. So it does make a difference if you show up.''

It is a difference Insley wishes to impress upon the VVA membership at large.

"I think sometimes they either don't understand the process or they get lost in the numbers, and they feel like they're only one person and one person can't do anything,'' he said. "They say I can't go down there and I can't do this. But a letter or a phone call or an e-mail can accomplish things. It does mean something. We need to participate to make a lot of this stuff work. Without them, everything is for naught.''

Following the Jan. 21 reception, a meeting of legislators was scheduled to begin laying the groundwork for the veterans caucus, but a winter storm prevented all but a handful of people from attending. Insley said another meeting with legislators will be scheduled.

In the following weeks, officers for the Veterans Caucus were appointed. Delegates Joan Cadden and Joseph Boteler III will co-chair the Caucus on the House side, and Senators Robert Garagiola and Janet Greenip will co-chair on the Senate side. Senators Jennie Forehand, Leo Green, and Richard Colburn, and Delegates George Owings III, Mary Conroy, and David Boschert are also members of the Maryland Assembly's new Veterans Caucus.
 

   

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