Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Awesome Opportunity

The first week of January brought an exciting opportunity for us.  We were contacted by Tom Zampieri, Director of Government Relations for the Blinded Veterans Association and asked to testify before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.  We travelled to Washington, DC where Tom led us around Capitol Hill for three days.  After arriving in DC and checking into the hotel, we met up with Tom and we were off and running. 

First, we had a meeting with the Subcommittee staff to tell our story and be briefed on the format of the proceedings.  What a friendly and dedicated group of people!  I apologize for not remember everyone's names, but thank you to each one for your assistance and support.

Next, we met with Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Legislative Assistant Eric Bursch.  Representative Herseth Sandlin had a most welcoming manner and listened intently to Sean.  We discussed the issues with transition from the DoD to the VA system, and the difficulties encountered with both VA and DoD benefits.  Since this meeting we have had steady contact with Mr. Bursch to follow up on the situation and provide assistance.

That evening we returned to BVA Headquarters in Chinatown and were escorted to supper by Christina Hitchcock, Exectutive Assistant at the BVA.   Christina is the woman behind the scenes for BVA's national conventions among other things.  We enjoyed a wonderful meal and great conversation.

Thursday, January 21, 2010 we were up early for breakfast and on our way to the Cannon House Office Building with Tom where we would be giving our testimony.  We had a moment to meet Congressman Harry Mitchell of Arizona, Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations before we began. 

Click here to read the statements and testimonies.  There is also a complete transcript available.  If you follow this link you can watch the video of proceedings and testimonies.

Click here to read an article by Bob Brewin about the hearing.

I cannot tell you how intense it felt sitting at the table, all eyes on Sean, listening to him speak about his experiences.  I was so proud of him!  Then, it was my turn (I was hoping I wouldn't have to speak!) and I was able to detail the impact on our family.  It was an awe-inspiring experience to say the least!

It was wonderful to hear Sean receive thanks for his service and sacrifice, and to have so many intent ears listening to the story.  Many times at home we feel isolated in our circumstances.  For the first time we had the chance to say, "If this has happened to us, then to how many others?"  It was the perfect opportunity for us to promote support for Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers who so often fall through the cracks of the DoD system upon returning home, along with the veterans in rural areas who find access to appropriate health care and mental health services challenging. 

We shook many hands and collected many business cards following the hearing.  There were so many people and faces that I surely can't remember them all.  I can tell you that several have been in contact with us over the months and continue to follow Sean's progress.

We went from the hearing to a meeting with the Armed Services Committee and then on to meet with Senator John Thune and his staff.  We discussed the delay in Sean's medical board which would allow him to medically retire from the military (this process was started in 2007).  Sean and I had each met Senator Thune previously, and again we were impressed by his sincerity and concern.  We continue to be in contact with his office regarding our concerns.

Senator Thune, Melissa, and Sean
Up next was a meeting with Senator Tim Johnson and members of his staff.  We had met with Senator Johnson in 2006 while Sean was evaulated at WRAMC and he asked Sean for an update on his status.  We also talked about the Vision Center of Excellence and the lack of progress by the DoD and VA to facilitate its existence.  Senator Johnson made it clear that he will continue to support our nation's veterans.  We have worked closely with his office since 2006 and are grateful for his support and assistance.

Tom Zampieri, Sean, Senator Johnson, and Melissa

We went to supper with Christina and Tom and reviewed the day's whirlwind happenings.  I'm not sure how Tom keeps his busy schedule!  It was nice to relax and unwind after a long and successful day. 

On Friday we had some free time and took a guided accessible tour of the Capitol Building.  The tour was unique as the guide was able to let Sean touch different things, and go "behind the cord" in several rooms.  We met Christina and Tom Miller, BVA Executive Director for lunch before walking to Ford's Theater.  I was disappointed to hear that the theater is being renovated and we were not able to tour anything except the museum downstairs. 

US Capitol
Sean touring the Old Senate Chamber
When we arrived at the airport, tired and ready to go home, we learned that our flight out of Minneapolis had been cancelled due to bad weather.  We landed in Minneapolis around 10:00 PM and found a hotel close by.  The next morning we flew out after much discussion and several phone calls by the pilot and flight crew.  As we neared Aberdeen the captain informed us that the plane was unable to land due to heavy fog, so we were rerouted to Pierre, SD and were sent on a four hour bus ride home.  We were certainly glad to be back after that!

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