Women of the Military

Advocacy with MOAA

Episode Summary

This episode was sponsored by MOAA. Since 1929, the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) mission has been to protect your earned military benefits. Through tireless advocacy, they have forged a legacy of success benefiting the entire military community. As a veteran or service member, you might not realize the power and impact of having MOAA fighting for you on Capitol Hill. This week I am interviewing Aniela Szymanski to talk about the work MOAA has done and continues to do on Capitol Hill. I learned so much and realize how important it is to be a member of MOAA. You can sign up to become a member at www.moaa.org/forthepeople.

Episode Notes

Aniela decided to join the military when she was looking at what she would do in the civilian sector and it wasn’t quite what she was looking for. As she began to search for options, she saw a poster for the Marines and realized she could be a recruiter in the Marine Corps. She went through the Delayed Entry Judge Advocate Program and served on active duty for nine before transferring to the Reserves. She continued to stay active in helping veterans with legal work and that is how she found herself working at MOAA.

While at MOAA she worked to help get the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act Passed. That allowed those on ships to get VA coverage for Agent Orange. It took years to get Vietnam Veterans benefits for diseases caused by Agent Orange on both land and sea. And there is currently an act in Congress working to prevent current and recent Middle East War veterans from going through the same long process. It is called the Toxic Exposure in the American Military (TEAM) Act. If you think you are suffering from an illness related to a burn pit check out this link for Veterans Affairs to register

She also worked to close loopholes that limited what “active duty” meant while serving in the Guard and Reserves. Allowing more members to qualify for the Post 9/11 GI Bill and for more members to receive full benefits. This work was directly connected to her service as a Reservist.

After watching her father go through a ten-year struggle to qualify for a VA health care and disability from his service during Vietnam she was excited to help work to modernize the VA Claims Process. What used to take over a year now, takes 3-4 months. 

She encourages veterans to get involved in Veteran Service Organizations especially at the local level. If you can get involved in your local chapter you can help make an impact on the veteran community within your community. 

Also, reach out to organizations like MOAA and let them know what you are concerned about or struggling with. Real stories from their members are helpful when advocating for changes or benefits. So don’t be afraid to write to MOAA at the national level if you have a concern. They want to listen to you and help you get your voice heard.

MOAA’s motto is Never Stop Serving because veterans have service engrained into who they are. So if you are looking to continue serving get involved today!

Connect with Anelia:

Twitter @akszymanski


Resources from MOAA:


Form Letters

If you want to learn more about how a bill is made into law you can check out Episode 49 where Erin Miller shares her experience of getting the law changed to allow her grandmother one of World War II’s Women Air Force Service Pilots to be inurned at Arlington National Cemetery. 

Read the full transcript here.

Episode Transcription

Amanda Huffman  00:00

Welcome to this bonus episode of Women of the Military Podcast in partnership with the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). Since 1929, the Military Officers Association's mission has been to protect your earned military benefits. Through tireless advocacy, they have forged a legacy of success benefiting the entire military community. As a veteran or service member, you might not have realized the power and impact of having MOAA fighting for you on Capitol Hill. This week, I'm interviewing Aniela Szymanski to talk about the work MOAA has done and continues to do on Capitol Hill. Aniela served in the Marine Corps on active duty and is currently serving in the reserves. And in today's interview, we focus on how she began her career in the military and how she came to work for MOAA and some of the work she has done at MOAA as a lobbyist, I learned so much and realize how important it is to become a member of MOAA and have your voice heard. You can sign up to become a member of MOAA for free www.moaa.org/forthepeople. 

You're listening to the Women of the Military Podcast where we share the stories of female servicemembers and how the military touch their lives. I'm Amanda Huffman, I'm an Air Force veteran, author of Women of the Military and a collaborative author of Brave Women Strong Faith. I am also a military spouse and mom, I created Women of the Military Podcast as a place to share stories of military women past and present with the goal of finding the heart of the story while uncovering the triumphs and challenges women face while serving in the military. If you want to be encouraged by the stories of military women and be inspired to change the world, keep tuned for this latest episode of women of the military.  Welcome to the show, Aniela. I'm excited to talk to you today.

Aniela Szymanski  01:58

Thank you so much. I'm really excited. 

Amanda Huffman  02:00

So let's get started with why did you decide to join the military?

Aniela Szymanski  02:05

I decided when I was in college and I had already planned to go to law school, I was towards the end of my bachelor's degree thinking about what was coming ahead and law school and I started to research careers in law to try to help myself think about where do I want to go with this law career and everything sounded kind of dull, especially at the entry-level of lawyers career right when you get out of law school, so I thought, well, I need to really look at some other options as fate would have it. There was a poster up and my college that was advertising the Marine Corps Judge Advocate Program, and I had never thought about the military as an option before even though my dad was a Marine. My uncle was a Marine. My godfather was a Marine. So I come from a Marine Corps family. But for some reason, it had never occurred to me that this was something that I could do as a lawyer until I saw that fateful poster. I contacted the officer candidate selection office and learned about all of the exciting things you can do in the military as a lawyer that you can't do as a civilian lawyer and it really interested me. So that's when I decided that's what I would do. 

Amanda Huffman  03:28

So let's switch over and talk about how you got involved in MOAA.

Aniela Szymanski  03:32

I was teaching at William and Mary law school at their veteran's benefits clinic where law students work on Veterans cases. William and Mary Law School is I won't say rural, although some people might consider it rural, but it's a small town in Virginia called Williamsburg. It's full of a lot of retirees. There's a lot of historical stuff there to visit because it was one of the first places that people came to the United It states and settled in. However, my husband was not too keen on relocating there. We were living in the DC suburbs at the time. I went to William and Mary to teach there and the original plan was he would move there with me. Well, he changed his mind. And so I was commuting back and forth. I would spend weekdays in Williamsburg teaching and then weekends in Northern Virginia with him. And it got to be a little difficult going back and forth all the time and maintaining two households. So by chance, I had met someone at the Military Officers Association who was looking to start a program to help veterans file their disability claims as they're retiring from the military. When I met with them to help them establish this program. They then offered me a job and the job was in Northern Virginia. It was a perfect opportunity for me to get back to living in Northern Virginia and I accepted that position not knowing really what I was getting into. Because to be honest, I didn't have a good understanding of veterans service organizations or military service organizations until I had the opportunity to work with them. And I think that that's not an uncommon experience for people, especially in our generation.

Amanda Huffman  05:23

Yeah, I would agree I knew of MOAA but I didn't really know what they were doing until like the last year or so as I've gotten more involved in the veteran space, and so many people don't even know what they're doing and like how important they are to the military and veteran community.

Aniela Szymanski  05:39

I agree. And I was really impressed with how much they do, how well they do it, and how committed they are to making improvements not just for veterans, but also for the currently serving population and their families.

Amanda Huffman  05:57

Let's talk a little bit about what your actual job with the Military Officers Association of America was?

Aniela Szymanski  06:01

I was in government relations and government relations is also known as a lobbyist. But a kinder term were the good kind of lobbyists, not the slimy snake lobbyists. So basically, I was lobbying Congress to pass laws that were beneficial to veterans and guard and reserve members. So my portfolio included veterans benefits, as well as National Guard and Reserve issues, because I'm still a reservist I had a loose connection to those issues as well. Yeah. Are there any specific campaigns that you can talk about one of the really important bills that were passed while I was working at Milan veterans benefits legislation was the Bluewater Navy, Vietnam veterans act. That's something that was long overdue for those who have any reference to Vietnam veterans agent or Orange was a really toxic substance that was used in order to defoliate the Vietnam countryside. And it was later discovered that it was causing all kinds of very serious health problems. It took a long time, and it took the work of Vietnam Veterans of America suing the government to actually get veterans benefits for those who were experiencing health consequences of Agent Orange. So they finally were able to get disability compensation, they finally were able to get the appropriate health care that they needed for these conditions. One loophole of the law was that it didn't cover service members that were on ships out off the coast of Vietnam, even though it was pretty commonly known that they were also exposed to Agent Orange. They could have been And exposed to Agent Orange from planes flying over them and spraying it. One of the other common ways they were exposed was through the water. So Agent Orange, even if it was used just on land would seep into the water and go into the harbors and bays of Vietnam where these ships were taking on water for drinking, bathing, cooking, and then they would get exposed to the same chemicals. It was really difficult to get the government to agree that number one they were exposed to and number two that they were responsible and that these veterans should receive the same type of disability compensation healthcare is those who served on the land. And this was very personal for me because my father is a Vietnam veteran. My father did serve on land in Vietnam. So it was not a problem for him to prove that he had been exposed to Agent Orange and he did have several health consequences as a result and lucky for him, it was easy for him to prove that Va was responsible for this unlucky for other people who were on ships. It was much harder. My father showed me photos he took standing on the shoreline of ships on the horizon. So standing on the shoreline, he could see very clearly these photos I saw ships that were right off the coast, huge ships. So they had thousands of service members out there, just off the coast. And it was not just one or two ships. It was a whole fleet of ships out there. And my dad also told me, Oh, absolutely, we were dumping buckets and barrels of Agent Orange right into the water. He said, I would look out onto the bay and you could just see it on the top of the water like a film. So I knew from my dad's firsthand experience that this was very common that it definitely was happening and that the government just wasn't owning up to it. It took decades of fighting with the government to provide these benefits. Finally, what it took was an act of Congress. So while I was there, calm passed through very aggressive lobbying by MOAA by other organizations, it took a lot of aggressive lobbying for Congress to finally say, yes, those service members who were on ships do warrant the presumption that they were exposed to Agent Orange, and you will give them disability benefits. And it affected thousands and thousands of service members who had suffered for far too long to actually get the benefits and the health care that they deserve. I was particularly proud of that. And I'm happy that it happened while I was there, and during the lifetime of some of these veterans, although there are estimates that hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans died waiting for these benefits, so I wish it could have happened sooner. I'm glad that it eventually happened. But this is a lesson learned that we can't allow these things to go on for so long. So now there is a follow on effort. That is a toxic exposures bill that advocates are trying to make sure the same thing doesn't happen to currently Serving service members and recent veterans who had toxic exposures in the Middle East, as happened to Vietnam veterans. So this is really lit a fire under veterans groups that we're not going to let this happen again, we need to start addressing this early and aggressively. 

Amanda Huffman  11:16

It's like the past and the current coming together where they don't want the same thing to happen. And if the lobbyists weren't there doing the work, it would just not ever get done.

Aniela Szymanski  11:28

No, you're absolutely right. That is the sad part. Unless you're a really loud voice. It's very easy for politicians to not hear you. And it takes a group of veterans and military organizations all working together, because that's when they really know they can't this is an issue that they cannot ignore, and they're not going to get away from having a coalition of groups is essential for getting the attention that these things deserve. Someone once told me that lobbying is like a three-legged stool. You have three tools in your toolbox. One is money through things like campaign donations, which veterans groups generally don't have a lot at their disposal to make campaign donations. The other is media. So getting the media involved and making sure that potential voters know what these politicians are doing. And do you Is this what you want your representative to be voting for or not? And the third is being right on the issues. If you have an issue that you're absolutely right on, that works in your favor. Ideally, you would have all three of those money, media, and the issue, but for veterans groups, it's too often that we have just the issue. Sometimes we have the media, usually, it takes a lot of effort to get the media to pay attention to these particularly technical issues, and very rarely do we have the money so we have to really use what we have at our disposal as much as possible. It takes a lot of effort.

Amanda Huffman  13:01

Yeah. It just shows the importance of having our voice in Congress. I think sometimes we feel really far removed from Congress and all the stuff that happens in Washington. I just don't think we realize how important all the stuff going on, like everyday people, veterans who are affected by Agent Orange veterans, and service members who are serving in the Middle East. It really touches our lives in a way that I didn't ever really think about.

Aniela Szymanski  13:27

I had the same way after I got involved in government relations. It was very eye-opening for me just how these everyday issues get impacted by what politicians are and are not doing and how many competing interests there are. Because anytime that we go to Congress, and we ask them to do something, especially related to benefits, that means that Congress has to come up with money that money can only come from two places, one raising taxes or two taking money from somewhere else and re characterizing it for the benefit that you want. So it's always a really difficult decision for politicians how they're going to prioritize issues. And you can see how if you're the decision-maker, and you're having to decide who am I going to cut? And who am I going to benefit that there are lots of other things that can come into play? How many people are going to be benefited by this? Are these people, my voters? How many of them are my voters, which is where veterans actually have a disadvantage that it's very easy for politicians to say veterans are such a small percentage of the population or am I worried about the 90% throw the 75%? So that's where we get behind the eight ball a little bit on Veterans issues because we are a small group, but that's also where it's important for advocacy organizations to get non-veterans involved in these issues. Get family members, I happen to be a service member, and my dad's a veteran, but I can tell you all the non-veteran members of my family care about my dad's heart disease and cancer also because it impacts all of us. So getting people outside just our small bubble is really important, because I can't find anyone in America who doesn't care about veterans. It's just a matter of getting them engaged and active on issues and deciding this is what they're going to be voting for.

Amanda Huffman  15:30

And you also mentioned that you did reserve and National Guard stouts talk about what sort of campaigns you did in that front.

Aniela Szymanski  15:37

One of the major things that I was really proud of with reserve benefits was the post 911 GI Bill and the post 911 GI Bill happened before I got involved in government relations. I was kind of riding the coattails of that great legislation, but there were so many loopholes that excluded certain types of reservists. The layperson would just say like, oh, yeah Well, it applies to everybody. So there shouldn't be a problem. But there were all of these technical types of orders like, are you on orders under this title 10, or that title 10, or this subsection or that subsection, or that really mucked things up. One of the huge problems was that when reservists were deployed, which happened to me, I was deployed, but reservists were activated and deployed, say for nine months on your deployment. And on day two of your nine months, you get injured and you get medivac. Back to the United States and you're sitting at Walter Reed for a year recovering. The way that the law was was those two days would count towards GI Bill eligibility, but the year you were sitting in the hospital didn't which was pretty ridiculous. I think everybody agreed. If you're in the hospital as a servicemember recovering from an injury that you sustained while you were deployed, you should still have that time counted towards your eligibility for the post 911 GI bill. And this is important because there are different levels of the post 911 GI Bill based on how many days you've served on active duty. So some people could end up with no eligibility. If you don't have 90 days of active duty, some might end up with less than 100% of the benefit, so they could end up with just 50% of the GI Bill. And these were really important veterans benefits, especially for those who were trying to restart their lives after a significant event like being catastrophic, Lee injured or obtaining some sort of other medical discharge or something that you can't continue your regular life anymore. We also as a group of military and veteran service organizations, were able to successfully close almost all of those gaps so that every day a reservist spends on active duty will count towards their eligibility regardless so that we can just say service is service. If you're serving a day on active duty and you're serving a day. It's reserves, then you should be treated the same.

Amanda Huffman  18:02

Yeah, I'm working on a book about joining the military. And I started doing research about the GI Bill because I was trying to explain the educational benefits. And even today, it's still pretty complicated. And it's not cut and dry. But it's really a matrix of understanding and like the laws and how the rules work.

Aniela Szymanski  18:21

It is. And there's currently an effort by God to phase in duty status reforms, so changes to the law that would simplify some of these Guard and Reserve duty statuses so that it would be less complicated, but with God and Congress involved, I'm not sure that they have a good track record on making anything less complicated, more complicated,

Amanda Huffman  18:47

Not the best track record. Is there any work that you did at MOAA that you're really passionate or proud of?

Aniela Szymanski  18:53

I think that the work that I did for ensuring that every veteran who files a disability claim or any other claim for benefits, gets that claim decided and acted on as quickly as possible is something that I was really passionate about because it took my father 10 years to get his VA claim granted, and my dad would say things like, it's been a year since I heard anything from VA. And I legitimately thought my dad was lying to me. I thought it can't be Dad, you must have missed something. Let me look at your paperwork. And actually, it had been a year since VA had communicated with him about his disability claim. During that time, I saw firsthand the suffering and agony that that causes and I really wanted that to end. That was actually one of the reasons when I left active duty and I went into the reserves that I became a veteran's law attorney because of those experience that I said to myself, other veterans can be treated this way like my dad has been treated other veterans Can't wait 10 years to get Disability Compensation check while they're trying to figure out how to live their lives and how to deal with disabilities it this is not the way that our country should be treating veterans when the opportunity came up to modernize VA his claim system. And when I say modernize, I don't technically mean modernize like with it, although they do need to do that too. And they have made some improvements there. But modernize the process, like the rules that are in place that have been putting things into a holding pattern for a year or waiting of times or inefficiencies in the process that just had to be cut out because they didn't help and they just caused more delays. So there was legislation passed while I was there that I was able to contribute to through working groups and through lobbying about the Appeals Modernization Act. So VA did make some changes to how they handle claims and it has resulted in quicker decisions. I'm not saying that decisions are always great. Sometimes the decisions are still wrong, but at least we get it faster and we can appeal it faster. And we can get to the end result faster. And it's not going to take 10 years, we can get benefits in the hands of veterans faster. There are two things that I think are really important that this government needs to do for veterans, and that is one take care of their health because a dead veteran is no good to us. They have to be provided with the best health care in the world, in my opinion, because they deserve it. And the second is making sure that they have a way to live and sustain themselves. There's zero excuse for anybody to be struggling as a veteran, especially if they have a disability because we do have ways to take care of them. We just need to get that delivery faster. And so I was really passionate about that getting things done faster. And if you remember there was a big scandal when Secretary Shinseki resigned as Secretary Va related to wait times and it just brought the system to a grinding halt. And it was clear dramatic changes needed to be made.

Amanda Huffman  22:09

Yes, it did. And I've heard that it's gotten better. So that's a good thing too.

Aniela Szymanski  22:14

It has I was just looking on his website the day before yesterday. So pretty recent information that it takes about three to four months to get a decision on a claim now, so that is a lot better than over a year waiting time that it took previously. So they are doing better. And I don't think that it's the people in VA that are the problem. I think it's the bureaucracy that was put in place over the years, which is just you know, rules on top of rules on top of regulations that then end up weighing everything down. There are great people at VA who want to do the right thing, but they're so hamstrung by the rules that were put in place over 50 years of bureaucracy that we were hamstringing them unnecessarily,

Amanda Huffman  22:59

The more that you can get involved in like the veterans face, the more stuff you realize is happening because like you said the media's and always covering it.

Aniela Szymanski  23:07

Yes. And there are so many practical issues that Congress could be addressing how many years were veterans complaining about how long it takes for them to get their benefits from VA, I don't know, like 30 or more years, that this wasn't an issue that was new. It just was an issue that wasn't getting attention.

Amanda Huffman  23:26

So, if there weren't veteran organizations like MOAA lobbying with Congress and trying to make change, what impact do you think that would have on the veteran community and those currently serving in the military?

Aniela Szymanski  23:38

I think that budgets for things like veterans' benefits and Veterans Health Care would definitely suffer if it was not for these groups constantly keeping pressure on Congress and being the voice that needs to be heard and the squeaky wheel and also the benefits would be cut or would not be implemented. So like I mentioned, it took decades to get agent Orange legislation for blue water Navy veterans who would do that for Gulf War Veterans unless there was an organization that was willing to do it. And what I found, unfortunately, is one voice is just one voice. And it's really easy for politicians to not hear one voice. For instance, when my dad was struggling with his claim, he actually did complain to his congressman and he said, This is ridiculous. I shouldn't have to wait this long for VA to get me my benefits and his congressmen did what congressmen always do write a form letter. Thank you for your concern. I'll see what VA has to say about the A sends a response, hey, we're working on it. And that's the end of it. That was one voice but having the voice of these organizations that speak for millions of service members and veterans cannot be ignored. And without those organizations able to do that there would be little to no hope that individuals Veterans could get any acknowledgment of what they need. And this goes back to how things like the GI Bill first came into existence and things like war pensions came into existence. At the beginning of our nation. There were no military service organizations or veteran service organizations. They were just veterans who were really irritated that they weren't being taken care of. And then those veterans said, no one's paying attention to us because I'm just, you know, one voice. So they came together and they develop these organizations that still lasts today because out of the necessity of combining efforts and combining voices or someone to be able to pay attention to us as a group of veterans and us as a group of service members versus just one person complaining, it really is vital, and it's hard to imagine that anything would happen without them.

Amanda Huffman  25:56

That makes a lot of sense. Why should veterans and service members get involved in organizations like MOAA?

Aniela Szymanski  26:02

I think that the most important reason to get involved is because you have a way to get your voice heard notoriously, every service member has a gripe about something like in the Marine Corps, there's saying that if you're not complaining, then you're not happy, like a happy marine is a marine who's complaining about something. So there's always something that can be improved. I think that's the symptom of something of a system that continuously be improved. Well, if you're complaining just to other Marines, or if you're complaining just to other service members, or just to your family members, nothing's gonna change. But if you're complaining to a broader organization, like the Military Officers Association, then you actually have somebody who's listening and saying, Oh, you know, what would fix that? This lets me go to Congress and tell them this needs to be fixed. And I really think that there are people who are in higher levels of government, not just in Congress, but also in federal agencies like the Secretary of Defense, this Secretary of Veterans Affairs, they want their agencies to be great. They don't want to be in charge of an agency that stinks and isn't doing a good job. So they have a very strong motivation to improve outcomes. They just don't exactly know how to do it because they are not boots on the ground for lack of a better term. So this is a way for them to get that information to the decision-makers. And as a service member, I don't have a direct line of communication to the comment on the Marine Corps. I don't have a direct line of communication to the Secretary of Defense, my congressman would barely acknowledge my letter with a form response. I don't have that way unless I have somebody to do it for me. Corporations have lobbyists, banks have lobbyists, animals have lobbyists, endangered species have lobbyists, why shouldn't service members we need lobbyists to and these are lobbyists and you should treat them like lobbyists like you're working for me. You need to go to Congress and lobby for these things to be changed and improved because you're My voice if you're a member of one of these organizations, you're paying for that lobbyist. So I think it's money well spent if you can pay $40 a year to have a lobbyist.

Amanda Huffman  28:10

That's so true. And it's not just being a member of the organization and being a member of MOAA, but also using your voice and having your voice heard in a way that it takes action, it gives you the powerful voice by getting involved.

Aniela Szymanski  28:23

Absolutely. And I think that you shouldn't be shy about it either. I know I was kind of used to people not paying attention to what I said if I made complaints. And so I thought like, Oh, well, if I contact someone at one of these organizations, my email is going to go into a black hole. never hear from anybody but believe it or not, they're actually super excited to hear from service members. So if you email somebody at MOAA go on their website and their email addresses are on there. Or if you call them they will email you back and call you and be very excited to talk to you about what you have to say don't feel like it's going to go into a black hole because that's what gives them the voice Standing on the hill to because as a lobbyist when I went to Congress and I said you need to change this because it has a negative impact, give me an actual service member who this is impacting, and I would need to come up with one or else they wouldn't believe that what I was saying was true. So they need these examples. They need real life people to speak up so that they can use them as examples of what needs to be improved. So you should really feel free to contact anybody that you can get your hands on in these organizations don't think it's going to go into a black hole. At least I can speak for my wife because I was I I loved hearing from service members. And sometimes we would become like virtual pen pals.

Amanda Huffman  29:41

So, what would be the first step for someone who's a veteran or servicemember listening and they want to get more involved?

Aniela Szymanski  29:47

The first step is usually to get involved with a local chapter if there's one in your area because that is a great introduction into organizations, of course, local chapter Is vary depending on who's in charge of them or how engaged they are. But I look at it this way, if you're in a local chat if you find a local chapter that isn't doing much, this is your chance to make it do more. I do hear veterans complain like, Oh, my local VFW doesn't do anything or my local other organization is not very active. And I think that's great. You know what if they're not active, there is your chance to basically take over you can make it whatever you want and go run for a leadership position, make sure that they do become active if you know something that they should be involved in, get them involved in it is there's no way to influence things better than being the one who's helping make those decisions. So definitely look into local chapters because there you can be like a big fish in a small pond doing a lot of things locally, and then at the national level that can translate to a lot of good work to and you have credibility. local chapters should be involved with their politicians who represent that district be the voice from the grassroots level up, and that will get their attention. You should also look at what the national organization is doing and how you can support it. All of these organizations are advocating for legislation of one type or another. I mentioned that there is a toxic exposure bill right now that Congress is considering it's already been introduced in the Senate. It's Senate Bill 4393, the toxic exposure in the American military act of 2020 TEAM. Act, write to your member of Congress and say, hey, I want you to vote for this because this is important to me go to your national organization like I know MOAA has this on our website. You can do a form letter that mo has already put together all you do is type in your name, address, and they will send the letter to your member of Congress and don't think that these don't matter, I will say that before I worked at MOAA, I did not think that these types of letter writing campaigns mattered until I saw the impact that it actually had on these elected representatives. There was one time that mo I got so many service members to write in. We had them send postcards that we included in our magazine. And so many of our members sent in these postcards that the center was like, please stop telling them to send these we are overwhelmed. We have so many of these postcards, we get the message, don't worry, we got it. But these things really do make an impact. And even if it's just electronic, like not even a written letter, they keep logs, they keep tallies of how many people have called about this bill, how many people have emailed about this bill. So those actually do make a difference. Don't think that even if you're just sending a form letter that no one's paying attention, it's someone's paying attention somewhere. So do that through your national organizations. MOAA website has a great one. So your chance to really be the grassroots advocate for how these things should be improved. Also, if you want to get involved in things like community service, your local chapters are a great way to do that our generation of veterans are really interested in giving back to the community and being of continued service. I know MOAA's motto is Never Stopped Serving. And I think that MOAA came up with that motto, not because that was aspirational, but because that's literally what we do as service members. So it wasn't like, Hey, we want everybody to never stop serving. It was actually no, this is just a fact, we never stopped serving because we're service members and we're always gonna have that mentality. So use your local chapters as an opportunity to do that and be the one who comes up with the ideas gets the resources together and makes it happen. Don't sit around and wait for somebody else to do it. The most aggravating thing that I hear is like I said, Oh, my local chapter is not doing anything. Well, you should do it. Then you A leader I don't know anybody at any level of service. Even if you're an E3, you are capable of leadership and you have let's there's no excuse for not being someone who can get it together and make a difference. These organizations have the resources already to do it take advantage of that don't reinvent the wheel. I know MOAA has community grants are their chapters. So if somebody is like, Hey, I really want to provide emergency financial assistance to veterans who are facing eviction. That's one that I've seen, but I need to fundraise the money and that's always the hard part of fundraising the money. Well, if you are part of an organization like MOAA, you don't have to fundraise the money but will give you a grant for that. So there are already mechanisms in place that you can take advantage of and do a lot of good work at the chapter and local level, both in community service to give back to the community which I know everybody is interested in doing and also in making change at the national level with Improving benefits improving how servicemembers are treated in the future.

Amanda Huffman  35:05

Yeah, that's great. As a reminder, you can learn more about getting involved www.moaa.com/forthepeople. And I'll put links to MOAA website and some other resources that you mentioned so that people can find them in the show notes easily and get involved. I love the motto that MOAA has, Never Stopped Serving. It's so true, we don't ever stop serving. So I love that. Thank you so much for your time. I really enjoyed getting to talk to you. And hopefully, soon I'll get to do another interview and we can talk more about your military story. But I learned so much in this interview, and I hope my listeners really enjoyed it too. So thank you. 

Aniela Szymanski  36:05

Thank you so much, Amanda. 

Amanda Huffman  36:08

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