Veterans for American Ideals Stands for People, Not Partisan Politics

By Colin Raunig

After leaving active duty, I felt unmoored. My grad school classes seemed pointless. My classmates, distant. I was a square peg, ironic because I had felt like a square peg while active duty. At least internally, I had become a walking cliché of the military veteran who can’t move on: I thought about the life I had lived in the Navy for the previous twelve years and the life I would be living if I had stayed in. I had felt misshapen during my time in service, and I felt that my service had made me misshapen for civilian life.

Then I came across a group called Veterans for American Ideals (VFAI).

Last winter, I was in a haze of post-election angst, unsure what to do about the political polarization that seemed to be tearing this country apart. Facebook didn’t help: people just yelling at each other. I then noticed that two Facebook friends, Phil Klay and Matt Gallagher, had joined VFAI. Phil and Matt are both published authors who I admire, and who both attended MFA programs to write fiction, the same course of study I am pursuing at Colorado State University. Learning that fellow veterans — fellow writers — were contributing to this group, made me feel that I could contribute, too. When I went to the group’s website and learned of their mission, I knew I had to join.

Veterans for American Ideals is a nonpartisan group that advocates for American ideals of fairness and respect for the vulnerable. Their current focus is protecting refugees, countering anti-Muslim bigotry, and saving the Special Immigrant Visa program for interpreters who served alongside American troops. The most recently negotiated defense spending bill includes 2,500 new visas for the Afghan SIV program. This bipartisan initiative saves lives and was needed to meet the original request for last year’s bill.

So far, I’ve used both the words “nonpartisan” and “bipartisan.” The point is that certain American ideals transcend politics; certain political policies are actually about people. The Special Immigrant Visa Program is about saving people’s lives that protected American lives. The week before the SIV visas were approved, VFAI had been lobbying Congress on The Hill to push that policy to pass.

But before I went to DC with this group of veterans, some of us met locally in Colorado. We drank beer and strategized how we can support each other in our mission of supporting others. This was with the full support of the VFAI front office. After signing up to join, I was called up almost immediately by their director, Scott — it’s still odd for me to call a retired Marine Corps Colonel by his first name, but he insists — who empowers members of VFAI to have a “bias for action.” The other veterans and I remembered this as we scheduled meetings with the offices of both Colorado Senators and our local Congressman. We remember this now as we continue to reach out to the community. Everyone contributes in the way they feel most comfortable. I primarily like to write.

Our fight has just begun. There are still 15,000 Afghan interpreters stuck in the system. The Iraqi SIV program has been shut down and replaced with a refugee resettlement program. These issues require us, as veterans, to be vigilant. These programs aren’t partisan, but the political process may sometimes feel polarizing. Don’t fret. American ideals start with the respect we treat ourselves with and the people who surround us. And we extend that respect to all who are deserving of it. When an interconnected and dispersed group of veterans think and act locally, the wide-ranging positive effects are truly remarkable. I’ve lived this experience and have seen it in others.

Post-active duty, VFAI gave my life some much-needed purpose. It provided me the opportunity to continue serving after my service was complete. Being a veteran gives me a voice that can serve a new mission. Of course, I’m only one person. Together, however, among many veterans, we are a unifying force. We can communicate to politicians, to the people, and to each other, that shared values exist for all people. And it’s for these values that we as a people, as veterans, have an obligation to stand behind.

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