It’s December 31st, which means that everywhere you look, there are retrospectives and “year in review” pieces, commemorating the dumpster fire that was 2020. Frankly, I’m not interested in looking backwards at this point – this year has left its unwanted mark on all of us, and while I certainly feel grateful for the people who helped HillVets weather the storm, I’d rather turn my gaze to the horizon and think about the opportunities that a new year can bring.
Regardless of your politics – remember, we are a nonpartisan organization – a new administration AND a new Congress present many meaningful opportunities for change. I look forward to placing our new Fellows into offices around the Capitol, ensuring that the voices of veterans and military family members are heard throughout the policymaking process. Despite the fact that there are fewer veterans in the 117th Congress than at any point since WWII, I hope that by continuing to advocate for their staffs to include individuals with military ties, we can increase and expand the representation of veterans on the Hill. Their knowledge, expertise, and lived experiences are supremely valuable to the legislative process!
I am also excited to meet and work with the new leaders of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense. Policy work doesn’t just happen in the legislative branch, and HillVets has been fortunate to have access to “top brass” at the agencies most impacted by the decisions that our Fellows and alumni help to make on the Hill. Ideally, there will be a commitment to collaboration between executive and legislative officials, in an effort to truly make the most positive impact on the lives of those who serve and those who support them. I am confident that the HillVets community can be valuable to executive leaders as they work to develop and implement their agenda!
While we don’t know exactly when we’ll be able to gather in person again, I look forward to the return of the HillVets 100 and our monthly networking socials! You can be sure that we won’t host those events (or any of our others) until it is definitely safe to do so, but I am optimistic that 2021 will see the return of in-person networking and celebration. In the meantime, of course, we will continue to provide creative virtual and socially distanced ways for our community to connect, learn, and grow. If you are an alum of one of our programs and you haven’t completed this survey that will help us reach and engage with you better, please consider doing so!
I hope 2021 brings success and good fortune to all of our partners! Just like we saw in 2020, I know that they will work diligently to highlight and support veterans in each of their respective industries. I also look forward to forging NEW partnerships in the new year – HillVets provides tremendous value to our sponsors and supporters, and we are always working on innovative ways to link arms with individuals and organizations who share our values.
Of course, nothing magically changes on 1/1/2021, and we know that there are still difficult times ahead. So, eat that Hoppin’ John, pop those 12 grapes, dump a bucket of water out the window, smash a plate, or do whatever you do to bring luck into the new year – the HillVets team wishes you and your families nothing but peace, prosperity, happiness, and good health in 2021.
By Karla Langham
As a military spouse, we often put our careers on hold, press pause on finishing our education, and take time to support our spouse’s military career. We endure comments about our dependence on our servicemember and are regularly referred to as “just” a military spouse. We are told to suck it up, that we “signed up” for this, and for that reason it is completely our fault that we did not take the proper amount of time to read the fine print. There are no takebacks and there is definitely no whining.
The aforementioned is mostly true, with the exception of the “no whining.” When it comes to the lack of upward mobility in the careers of military spouses, there is definitely whining. The reality, however, is that I would not trade my experiences for any other.
My path as a military spouse has brought me through numerous entry level career paths and has led me to where I am today: a congressional staffer. It took a year and a half of living in our current duty station, to convince someone to take a chance on hiring me. When I am asked how I was able secure a position in Congress, my response is, “I have no idea. It was purely an accident;” but a happy accident that has been a continual learning curve ever since.
During my first few weeks as a Congressional staffer, I repeatedly heard the phrase “This job is like drinking from a fire hose.” I was bombarded with information every moment of every day. Learning about the district’s issues, stakeholders, friends and foes, and how to address adversity—it was overwhelming, but no different than my life as a military spouse. I was juggling issues, addressing competing needs, and working within the parameters of government entities and policies. I learned quickly that the only way to fully grasp how to do your job, is to learn-by-fire.
Luckily, I was born and bred of the “learn-by-fire” method, which proved useful the first few months of starting my job, but then came 2020. Five months into my amazing “happy accident” job, everything came to a screeching halt. COVID-19 lockdowns commenced, and I was left wondering: How would I learn-by-fire, if there was no actual fire? How would I meet others, build relationships, or grow myself professionally? I was just another face in a sea of Zoom conference calls, and I was struggling to make meaningful professional relationships. In my frustration, I vented to a friend, who introduced me to another friend, and that friend introduced me to HillVets.
When I was introduced to HillVets they had just begun their application process for the HillVets LEAD Program. I initially was hesitant to apply since I am not a veteran and just a spouse. Additionally, HillVets had only previously offered the program to those living and working in the greater Washington, DC, area. While contemplating the application process, I was invited to watch a live broadcast of HillVets LEAD Alumni discussing their experiences with the program. Among those speaking was a military spouse, who encouraged other spouses to apply. Hearing that helped calm my nerves and motivated me to submit my application. Additionally, the HillVets team announced they would be offering the program virtually, due to the pandemic. This was even more exciting; I would get to participate from San Diego, CA.
The HillVets LEAD Program was exactly what I needed. It was a safe space to ask questions about leadership, share stories, and learn from my peers within the veteran and military community. Our cohort of protégés was able to work collaboratively on a project, pool our networks, and execute our panel for HillVets CAPCON, a leadership and policy forum that culminated the program. Through HillVets, I met people that I otherwise would have never met—which is one of my favorite experiences of the program being virtual. HillVets speakers were always impressive; they were honest and authentic. They spent their evenings speaking on their leadership experiences in D.C. and wholeheartedly believed in building allyship among veterans and veteran advocates. I walked away from the HillVets LEAD Program with lifelong friendships, mentors, invaluable tools to use on the job, and a literal home to walk into should I ever make it to the HillVets House in Washington, D.C.
HillVets has taken the time to build meaningful partnerships with senior policy experts and make them accessible to those who seek to build their skills and grow their careers. I entered the HillVets LEAD program feeling that my experiences as “just” a military spouse would not be welcomed. Instead, I fostered lifelong professional friendships, found the mentorship I was lacking, was able to build on my career and plan next steps. I would encourage anyone working in veteran programs or policy to apply to the HillVets LEAD Program and to take advantage of the program being offered virtually.
Generosity and gratitude have more in common than just their first letter. Generosity can certainly inspire gratitude. But does it work in reverse? Does gratitude inspire generosity? Scholarship (and personal experience) suggests that the answer is yes, and that individuals who regularly practice gratitude in their lives are more helpful and supportive. We at HillVets have been striving to make gratitude a part of our routines in a strange and challenging year. As we celebrate Thanksgiving, we wanted to share what we’re thankful for AND how you can get in on the gratitude-generosity cycle and help our organization thrive in the coming months.
We are thankful for our incredible HillVets alumni, partners, and supporters. Both in DC and across the country, our community is what makes us so unique and special. Generosity abounds in this group – folks are always willing to lend a helping hand, reach across the aisle, and pay it forward to those who follow in their footsteps. We wouldn’t have been able to survive this very difficult year without the support – financial and otherwise – of our amazing community.
We are so very grateful for our program participants! Whether they are HillVets House Fellows or HillVets LEAD Protégés, they put their trust in us to help them achieve their professional goals – an act of generosity in and of itself! They are at the heart of everything we do at HillVets, and they drive us to be better, more innovative and inclusive, and as effective and supportive as we can possibly be.
We are thankful for our HillVets 100 honorees, from this past year and beyond! These exceptional individuals and groups truly represent the best of what the military and veteran communities have to offer. We cannot wait until we can gather safely again, so we can give them the recognition and celebration they richly deserve – though we’re working on some creative ways to do that in our current reality, so stay tuned for more on that in the coming weeks.
If you are as grateful as we are for HillVets and what it has contributed to your life, you can turn that gratitude into generosity! On December 1, the nonprofit community will celebrate Giving Tuesday, a global generosity movement that strives to unleash the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and the world. Created in 2012, Giving Tuesday was a simple idea – to encourage people to do good – that has grown into a worldwide celebration that inspires hundreds of millions of people to give, collaborate, and highlight generosity.
If you are able, we encourage you to make a gift of any size to HillVets, via our Uncommon Giving site: https://uncommongiving.com/np/hillvets-foundation. If you want to take your generosity up a notch, please consider sharing the link – and your personal HillVets story – with your friends and family! All contributions will support our impactful programs and allow us to continue our mission of serving the community of veterans, servicemembers, and supporters in our Nation’s Capitol with opportunity, mentorship, housing, peer support, and training in their pursuit of continued service in government.
From all of us at HillVets, we thank you for being a part of our family, and we wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and meaningful Thanksgiving!
The HillVets community is well-versed in the politics and policies of both the Executive and Legislative branches of our government. The Judiciary can be a bit more of a mystery, particularly for those who did not study law. As an attorney and a professional woman, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg certainly had an impact on my life and career. But did you know that she also made a lasting impact on the military community? In addition to being a military spouse (her husband, Martin, served in the Army Reserves), RBG was involved in a number of cases that involved the military community and its policies. Here are the biggest:
Struck v. Department of Defense – Before RBG was a Supreme Court Justice, she worked for the American Civil Liberties Union. In that capacity, she represented Air Force Captain Susan Struck against the Department of Defense. Women in the military at that time were discharged for becoming mothers, which meant that pregnant women in uniform were forced to either leave the military or risk an abortion (which was illegal at that time). Captain Struck got pregnant, but as a Catholic, she would not pursue abortion, so the Air Force recommended an honorable discharge. However, Captain Struck did not want to leave the work she loved. Ginsburg won a stay (a delay, essentially) for Struck’s discharge, arguing that the only conspicuous difference between men and women was their ability to get pregnant. She also argued that no other temporary medical condition resulted in a de facto discharge, and that men in the military did not face an end to their careers when they became parents. Therefore, Struck’s constitutional rights of equal protection, privacy, and free exercise of religion were violated. Neither lower court agreed with Ginsburg’s arguments, but when the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, the U.S. Solicitor General convinced the Air Force to abandon the policy. The Struck case remains largely unknown because the Supreme Court never actually heard oral arguments.
Frontiero v. Richardson – Once again, RBG’s work at the ACLU brought her to the Supreme Court, this time in a case related to military benefits. Sharron Frontiero was a lieutenant in the Air Force and applied for housing and medical benefits for her husband. While men in the military could claim their wives as dependents and get benefits for them automatically, women who served had to prove that their husbands were dependent on them for more than half their support. Frontiero marked Ginsburg’s first time delivering an actual oral argument in front of the Court. Justices Douglas, White, Marshall, and Brennan found the military’s benefit policy unconstitutional, because there was no reason why military wives needed benefits any more than military husbands. Justice Brennan also dismissed the Air Force’s argument that the policy was meant to save administrative costs by simply assuming that all wives were dependents (but not doing the same for husbands); on the contrary, by automatically granting benefits to wives who might not truly be dependents per the requirements, he said, the Air Force might actually be increasing its costs.
United States v. Virginia – Ginsburg was Justice Ginsburg when this landmark case regarding equal protection in the military reached the Supreme Court. The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) was Virginia’s only all-male public undergraduate college/university. The United States brought suit against the state of Virginia and VMI, claiming that the school’s admissions policy was unconstitutional because it violated the equal protection clause. In an attempt to avoid further legal challenges, Virginia proposed to create the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL) as a comparable program for women. The Court ruled 7-1 (Justice Clarence Thomas’ son attended VMI, so he recused himself) that the admissions policy was unconstitutional, and that the creation of the VWIL was not a legally sufficient way to correct that injustice. Justice Ginsburg, writing for the majority, held, “The VWIL program is a pale shadow of VMI in terms of the range of curricular choices and faculty stature, funding, prestige, alumni support and influence.” The VMI decision then became the benchmark case for any law that “denies to women, simply because they are women, full citizenship stature — equal opportunity to aspire, achieve, participate in and contribute to society.” VMI toyed with the idea of going private to exempt itself from the 14th Amendment; however, after some back and forth with the Department of Defense, it began to admit women. U.S. v. Virginia continues to be taught in constitutional law courses in law schools across the country.
As you can see, Justice Ginsburg made a significant impact in the military community, particularly where women were concerned. And while the Supreme Court can seem esoteric, it is important for Americans to learn about and understand how our country’s laws are both developed AND challenged. Are there other military-related Supreme Court opinions that you find fascinating? Leave us a comment!
By Chris Macleish
Working on the Hill is a pursuit rife with paradox; rewarding and frustrating, meaningful and futile, competitive and social. During my first year on the on the Hill, I met some of the most competent, motivated, and intelligent people with whom I have ever had the opportunity to work. Many of the congressional staffers I encountered during this time were as driven by public service as any member of the armed forces with whom I served – some even more so. And like the military, working on the Hill can be a profoundly rewarding experience. When I came to the Hill as a Legislative Fellow, I initially viewed it as an opportunity to broaden my perspective on government operations before joining the foreign service. By the end of my fellowship I had decided to instead pursue a career on the Hill.
As veterans, we are told that the skills we learn in the military – leadership, organization, critical thinking, etc. make us invaluable to the civilian world and highly sought after by employers. To some extent this is true; some employers do seek out veterans. But the idea that we, as veterans are entitled to start at positions of higher responsibility with higher pay by virtue of our veteran status is insulting to civilian employers and dangerous to veterans seeking employment. All veterans have a great deal to offer, but we must appreciate the come-up in any organization as much as we did in military service.
The Hill is no exception. Veterans are woefully underrepresented and are thus actively sought out by congressional offices. Depending on the way in which a veteran served, their experience and institutional knowledge of military operations can be a tremendous added value to a congressional office with national security, armed services, intelligence, maritime, or foreign affairs portfolios. Educational and personal experiences are similarly valuable – a veteran with a masters in labor relations is a double threat to an office with interests in the labor community. And all veterans, to some degree, have an understanding of one of the largest administrations in the federal government, the VA.
But the Hill is a bizarre working environment with unique rules and procedures that are frequently not written down for benefit of new employees. So, for veterans who have a desire to work on the Hill, serving as a fellow is an ideal way to get started. Fellows, even during a global pandemic, both contribute to substantive policy discussions and have the opportunity to learn the draconian rules of the Hill. This has been a wild year and the dust has not even begun to settle from an even wilder election day. But for me, the chaos, divisiveness, and hate that has seemingly exploded across the country has only fed the bug that led me to seek opportunities on the Hill a little over one year ago. The experience has been rewarding beyond measure and it is my fervent hope that more veterans – the many veterans who are cleverer and more qualified than I am – similarly decide to avail themselves of opportunities to contribute to the work of Congress.
Often, I find myself looking back at our March community social at Valor Brewpub. We were less than three weeks away from the HillVets 100 of 2019 Tribute Gala. Our socials are always high-energy, but the buzz was extra palpable. We had just onboarded a crew of new HillVets House Fellows who were all eagerly networking and lining up coffees and conversations. I’m always exhausted at the end of our socials (all of that talking takes it out of me!), but I remember feeling energized. It was inspiring to see our incredible network of supporters show up and make the kinds of connections that enable meaningful, positive change.
Of course, we all know what happened next. A week after the social, we had postponed the gala, vacated our office, and hunkered down for what we thought would be a (relatively) short shelter-in-place period. Now, four and a half months later, our gala has moved from postponed to canceled, and we are still severely limited in the kinds of activities in which we can engage. If you follow us on social media, you know that we’ve produced a variety of webinars, and we’ve rolled out Cohort 4 of HillVets LEAD in a virtual environment. But what’s next? I thought I’d provide a brief update on our operations, and then give you some feedback on how you can help HillVets continue to weather this storm.
Since I already mentioned our fellows, let’s start there! Right before the pandemic shut everything down, we were able to get a few of our new folks placed in Congressional offices, and they’ve been all kinds of busy! Unfortunately, we have a handful of fellows who didn’t find their perfect fit before hiring ground to a halt – while some of them have had to rethink their fellowship timing, some are still available! If you work on the Hill and need some help, look no further than our highly qualified HillVets House Fellows – we’d love to send you their resumes and help set up a virtual meet-and-greet.
Next up is HillVets LEAD – and by the way, if you haven’t checked out the bios of our incredible Protégés, you can do so here. Our Protégés and Ambassadors have been adjusting to the virtual environment and having some really thought-provoking discussions about leadership, policy development and implementation, and communications in the veteran and military arena. The group has finalized the theme for CAPCON (the day-long conference that is the capstone of the program): “Leading Paradigm Shifts in Military and Veteran Communities.” The group is still ironing out panels and speakers, but you can bet that the event will be relevant, timely, and full of interesting insight. Mark your calendars for September 29th, and stay tuned for more…
HillVets House has been pretty quiet lately, but we’re hoping to change that a bit in the coming weeks! The staff and fellows have worked hard to spruce up the yard, so we can be ready for some socially distanced, outdoor fun. Our trivia night on August 6th will be a hybrid event – you can come to the House and participate in person, or you can tune in and play from the comfort of your home. Also, if you are getting tired of your home office and want a change of scenery, why don’t you come work at HillVets House? Our coworking space has everything you need, and we’d love to see your faces – we’ll be operating a sign-up system, to ensure that we can maintain proper spacing, so look out for an announcement on that shortly.
We could not weather this storm without our incredible partners – THANK YOU to all of the individuals and organizations that make HillVets such a special and supportive community. If you or your company want to be a part of the family, we’d love to have you over for a tour and a chat!
We hope everyone is staying safe and healthy, and we can’t wait to see everyone again soon. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out if there’s anything we can do to help!
By: Conner Swett, HillVets Fellow
On the first day of my fellowship in early February, my supervisor assigned me to “track this coronavirus that is happening in China. I don’t know much about it, but I believe it can get big.” Oh, how she was right.
We are living in exciting times. COVID-19 has taken hold and forced us to be isolated from our friends and, for some of us, our families. The news tells us that it is getting worse, the White House is sending mixed messages, and misinformation is filling up social media. It has been a little more than a month, March 12th, when I last went into work for my HillVets Fellowship. The subject of my daily updates has become the thing that put my fellowship on hold, and it sucks.
It was bearable the first week with my friend Netflix, but by Week 2, I needed to create a new routine to get me through this crisis. Leaning on my Marine Corps values and the Stoic teachings, I decided to focus on five things to help me get through this time indoors. For anyone that listened to HillVets Founder Justin Brown’s April 8th webinar or read the works of Ryan Holiday, some of these will be familiar.
I have been a longtime fan of these. My morning is an essential part of my day because it’s for me, not for the world. I don’t want to look at my phone, nor do I want to turn on the TV right away. I believe it’s essential to have an hour where you can make breakfast and relax before starting work. I would feel stressed if I went from my bed straight to my computer for work. Additionally, before I start work, I review my list of things I need to do and make edits. Now my day has begun.
Goals are essential for me to feel productive. We don’t know how long this will last, but it doesn’t mean this time has to be wasted. By making some long-term improvement goals that I want to accomplish, I am then able to make weekly checkpoints that will help me reach those goals. Call it pride, narcissism, or just motivation, but when this is over, I hope to be more impressive over someone who is solely streaming.
Turn Off Social Media
I use Facebook Messenger to stay in contact with friends and family members during these trying times, but I find little comfort with scrolling through my feed. For Instagram and Twitter, I try to avoid opening the apps. We can do without a meme or snippy tweet that we probably won’t remember when this is over. Replace short-term feelings of joy, with goals that will bring long-term happiness.
Reading has become very important to me during these last few weeks. While Netflix occupied my time the first week, I now turn on some background music and pick up something to read instead. I used to hear people say that they didn’t have time to read, but now what is their excuse? I suggest finding a book and a magazine or journal to read, this way you have a balance between long and short reads.
Find something fun to do!
Despite all this stuff, it’s essential to take a break and have some fun. If you have a backyard, then play in it, or do a workout. If you play video games, then take some time to play that after work. Or arrange a virtual hangout with your friends to catch up. This time stuck indoors shouldn’t just be work and goals.
How are YOU getting through isolation? Share your tips in the comments!