Representatives from FRCC and 10 other colleges went to Washington, D.C., in July. As a veteran of eight honorable years of service in the Marines, I was chosen to represent FRCC. I couldn’t be more grateful.
Speaking for veterans
We had the chance to network and speak about our experiences as veteran students to help improve the educational support provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
I was part of FRCC’s delegation that also included Army veteran and student Consuelo Ruelas-Flores, and Randy Rayback, one of FRCC’s veteran services advisors. On our first night in town, all the schools’ representatives and some members of the Kisco Foundation went out for dinner to get to know each other.
Afterwards, some fellow veterans and I decided to visit some monuments. The walk turned out to be more eventful than we thought it would be. When we walked up the enormous staircase that leads to the Lincoln Memorial, we ran into all 52 contestants of this year’s Miss America competition. (Pictures were taken for all the non-believers.) They were apparently in town for a week-long orientation.
To ‘The White House’
My alarm rang at 05:45 on our second day. I donned my nicest suit (my only suit) and met with the group in the hotel’s lobby. From there, we made our way to the White House. Most administrative work for the White House has moved out of the West Wing and into the building next door, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. It’s all one giant complex that local officials refer to as “The White House.”
We saw the office of Dr. Jill Biden, a community college instructor and wife of Vice President Joe Biden, and many other important rooms before arriving at the Indian Treaty Room. While there, we met with some officials from the executive branch as well as some policy experts from veterans and educational organizations.
This turned out to be the first event at which we spoke with important people about matters of the VA education department and how we, as users of the GI Bill, believe it can be improved.
Veterans meet with member of Congress
Later, we went to the Longworth House Office Building where we met with Rep. Mark Takano of California to share with him, once again, our perspective on the matters that we had discussed earlier at “the White House.” It was an amazing experience, sitting around a table where we could air our grievances and talk about what is currently working well with someone who can affect change. He was very receptive and appeared to be invested in our issues.
A Capitol Hill secret
After meeting with the congressman, we were taken to the basement of the building for yet another once-in-a-lifetime experience: It turns out that Capitol Hill has an underground network of tunnels to allow movement from one building to another without leaving secured space. Before we could enter the tunnels, we had to be given “Official Business” badges that allowed us to move freely.
We used the tunnel network to walk to the Capitol building itself, then continued to another tunnel where we came to an executive trolley. This underground, open-top rail car moves 12 to 16 people and quickly took all of us right to the Russell Senate Office Building where we had our final meeting of the day.
Meeting with Senate staff
I was one of the first people to arrive at the next conference room and entered to find about 20 faces looking back at me. I wasn’t sure who they were, so I just found a seat and waited for the rest of our group to arrive.
As the proceedings began, we were introduced to the group and learned that they were representatives of senators who wanted to hear what we had to say. We took the opportunity to share what changes we as veterans would like to see in a final, finely tuned version of what we had already discussed twice earlier in the day. After this last meeting, our trip was over. We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.
Working to help veterans
I can’t begin to describe how thankful I am to have been able to participate in this opportunity – it’s one of the most significant things I’ve ever participated in. I can definitely say, however, that I believe our nation’s student veterans would be satisfied with what we accomplished and will reap the rewards of our visit in the future.