How I found my voice through the High Ground Veterans Advocacy Fellowship.

And how you can find yours.

When I applied for the High Grounds Veterans Advocacy Fellowship, I wasn’t entirely sure what advocacy was or what it would be like. I had visions in my head of Congressmen glaring me down as I tried to explain why my policy was necessary for the betterment of veteran lives. What happened instead was the most rewarding experience and has taken my career in a new and exciting direction.

High Ground Veterans Advocacy Founders and 2017 Winter Fellows with Senator Tester (Montana)

The application process was a little daunting to someone who had spent the last ten years as a stay at home mom. What did I know about writing a policy? What on earth did I want to advocate for? And what exactly did an advocate do? Would I be taken seriously? Would HGVA even consider someone with absolutely ZERO experience in politics? When I received the call from Kristofer Goldsmith, founder of HGVA, to inform me I had been selected as one of the fellows, I was simultaneously terrified and ecstatic.

One of my duties after receiving the fellowship was to raise the funds to cover my training in DC. I….was…terrified. In the beginning, I HATED asking people for money or donations. I was a little resentful of the fact that I had to raise my funds for my own training. There are other programs that wouldn’t require this of me! How dare they?

Ahhhh, but then I understood. By learning to ask my friends and family to support my fellowship, I was learning how to ask for what I needed as well as build a support network of people who believed in what I was working for. Which would then give me the courage to ask Congress men and women to support my policy.

As I packed my bags and headed to the training, I was not sure what to expect. Would the other fellows be much more professional than I? Would they already know what they wanted to do and how to do it and I would spend much of my time playing catch-up? Would I fit in being the only woman?

Maureen and HGVA founder Kristofer Goldsmith at the 2017 Student Veterans of America National Conference following his panel on advocacy.

Turned out, I had nothing to worry about. The founders as well as the fellows were extremely helpful and supportive. We were all very new to this process. But Kris, Dave, Steve, Tom, and Alex (the founding five) did an excellent job preparing us to storm the hill. The first two days of the training we learned everything from how to address whom in each office, what to say, how to say it in a purposeful manner, how to engage the interest of the press, how to give your elevator pitch, as well as learning how to write the one pager we handed to the congressmen and women we visited.

Speaking with Senator Daines (Montana) about adjunctive therapy for veterans with PTSD. You can see the one pager in front of him.

My first experience speaking on my policy was with Senator Peters. I was sweating so profusely I thought I might drown. I would have NEVER in a hundred years pictured myself speaking with a senator about an idea I had to help veterans. And yet here I was. The training HGVA had put me through fully prepared me for this moment and after a deep breath, I began talking. Sen. Peters was amazingly supportive, as a Navy veteran himself, and listened to what I had to say intently.

With Senator Peters (Michigan) following my first advocacy experience.

The next three days were a dizzying array of Senators and Representatives as we shared our policies with Capitol Hill. What we found were men and women who truly care about veterans and improving their lives in any way they can. And I knew I had found my voice, my life’s calling, as a veterans advocate.

My work as an advocate has brought me to where I am now. I have just recently been brought on board at the Vietnam Veterans of America to work in the government and policy section. I love going to work everyday. Knowing that I am working to make lives better for veterans and their families fills my life with purpose.

Now, it is your turn. HGVA is ready to train their next set of fellows. Have you ever said to yourself, “I wish they would fix/change/do something about this!”? Well, now is the time to be that change maker. Think about what change you would like to see made and, when you’re ready, apply for the fellowship.

The ONLY requirement to apply, is that you be a veteran. What are you waiting for?

Maureen Elias is an Army veteran, military spouse, and mother to three children. She is currently serving as the Assistant Director of The Veterans Health Council of Vietnam Veterans of America. She was selected as 2017 Armed Forces Insurances Fort Meade Base Spouse of the Year for her advocacy efforts and service to her community. To follow her journey in advocating for adjunctive therapies for the treatment of PTSD, check in with her Facebook page:

Read below about Tyson, Dave, and Joel’s journeys as HGVA Fellows.