VFW-SVA Fellows Reflect on Legislative Conference

Nine student veterans who were awarded a semester-long fellowship look back on their experience speaking to legislators and researching veteran issues

For the past five years, the VFW has partnered with Student Veterans of America (SVA), giving student veterans an opportunity to research and promote causes that are important to veterans. In March, nine students spent one week in Washington, D.C., during the VFW’s annual Legislative Conference, fulfilling an aspect of the fellowship opportunity.

Student veterans focused on one of the following four policy areas: 

  • Success in higher education.
  • Transitioning from the military to civilian life.
  • Succeeding and thriving in the civilian workforce.
  • Crafting the future of veterans’ health care.
  • VFW magazine spoke with the 2018 fellows after their trip to Washington, D.C.

Fellows Reflect
The nine student veterans selected to receive the VFW-Student Veterans of America Legislative Fellowship visited Washington, D.C., in March to advocate on behalf of their fellow veterans, service members and families. The semester-long fellowship began in 2013. The 2018 class had more than 50 applications, a 20 percent increase over the previous year.
Joseph Sacco
War: Global War on Terrorism: Operation Inherent Resolve (the fight against ISIS) 
Dates of deployment: October 2014 to January 2015 
Service: Navy
Ship: USS Bunker Hill 
Rating: Cryptologic Technician Collection 
VFW affiliation: Post 2146 in Idaho Falls, Idaho
Policy topic: Improving mental health care access for veterans not currently utilizing VA health care.
“This fellowship meant a lot to me. I am very fortunate to have served in 
the Navy, and now I am fortunate to advocate on behalf of veterans. I have spent quite a bit of time trying to find some way to help other veterans, and this 
fellowship provided the conduit for accomplishing that goal. I want every veteran to have a voice in D.C. Don’t believe that you can’t make it to D.C. to pitch your idea on how to improve the lives of veterans.”

Bradley Ward
War: Afghanistan 
Dates of deployment: January 2014 — September 2014
Service: Army Reserve
Unit: 302nd MP Co. from Grand Prairie, Texas and the 18th Airborne Corps. 
MOS: Military Police Officer
VFW affiliation: Post 4938 in Edmond, Okla.
Policy topic: Granting priority enrollment to all GI Bill users in higher education and training programs.
“It was truly a transformational experience that has definitely shaped me into both a more knowledgeable and determined advocate for our proud veteran community. The opportunity to connect and openly discuss policy and 
veteran-related issues with congressional leaders and department directors was an incredible experience that is 
certain to prepare me for future work in the field.”

Ryan Rehberg
War: Iraq
Dates of deployment: 2008-2009
Service: Army
Unit: 2nd Bn., 7th Cav, 1st Cav Div.
MOS: Infantryman
VFW affiliation: Dept. of North Dakota
Policy topic: Emergency care.
“I learned to effectively advocate on veterans policy issues. Making change can be difficult, but with support and guidance from great mentors, advocating became much easier.”

Jennifer Hosley
War: Global War on Terrorism
Dates of deployment: 2007 (South Korea)-2015 (Kuwait) 
Service: Army
Unit: D Btry, 1st Bn., 44th Air Defense Arty, 69th Air Defense Artillery Bde., 32nd Air and Missile Defense Command
MOS: Enhanced Patriot Missile Operator/Maintainer 
VFW affiliation: Post 6527 in Greenwood, Ark.
Policy topic: Military transition.
“My biggest takeaway from this experience is learning all the policies VFW and SVA work on. I had no idea about a few of the points, but now, I feel excited to come home to Arkansas and help on a local level. This experience has certainly encouraged me to be more involved in my local VFW Post.”

Gabriel Snashall
War: Iraq and Afghanistan
Dates of deployment: 2012
Service: Navy
Ship: USS Pittsburgh 
Rating: Electronic Technician 2nd Class/SS
VFW affiliation: Post 12150 in New Haven, Conn.
Policy topic: Education policy.
“[I most enjoyed the] authenticity of advocacy for a cause. 
The VFW and SVA are rare: their goals are streamlined, punctual, and it shows with how respected they are on Capitol Hill. I enjoyed experiencing every second of my 
time with both the VFW and SVA for that reason.”

Brian Walker
War: Global War on Terrorism
Dates of deployment: July 2001 – January 2002 (supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in the North Arabian Sea/Persian Gulf); January – September 2003 (supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom near the Korean Peninsula)
Service: Navy
Ship: USS Sacramento (2001-2004)
Rating: Machinist’s Mate (1999-2003); Storekeeper (2003-07)
VFW affiliation: Post 12158 at Northeastern University in Boston
Policy topic: VA mental health access to those who have received other-than-honorable discharges.
“It was very eye-opening to see, firsthand, the amount of work that goes into advocating for addressing veterans issues. This has given me a much deeper appreciation for the work that is involved, knowing there are many who are fighting for veterans like myself.”

Francheska Salazar
War: Global War on Terrorism
Dates of deployment: September and October 2008 (Port Au Prince, Haiti), Operation Continuing Promise (2008)
Service: Navy
Unit/Ship: Destroyer Squadron 8 attached to the USS Kearsarge
Rating: Cryptologic Technician 
VFW affiliation: Post 15021 in Baltimore, Md.
Policy topic: Non-retired veterans and the ability to access centralized resources that were once afforded to them while serving their country.
“I am forever indebted to everyone at the VFW and SVA for creating such a remarkable fellowship. I am humbled to have been selected and a part of this experience. Words truly cannot express my gratitude for this program. I am thrilled that I took a chance and applied and even more so that I was accepted. Thank you for making such a difference in this fellow’s life.”

Ed Tjaden
War: Iraq
Dates of deployment: 2008
Service: Army
Unit: 2nd Bde., 1st Armd. Div., Forward Operating Base Hammer, Camp Liberty and Camp Stryker
MOS: Close air support coordinator
VFW affiliation: Post 1592 in St. Peters, Mo.
Policy topic: Instituting a peer mentoring or support program within VA’s existing Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment framework.
“I enjoyed learning from the senior VFW legislative delegates and leadership while we interacted with the senators and congressmen. Their acceptance and guidance was the most amazing part of the fellowship.”

Hannah Joyce
War: Afghanistan
Dates of deployment: 2005-06 (Afghanistan), 2007 (Afghanistan), 2010 (Honduras)
Service: Air Force
Unit: Attached to the Bagram Air Base Medical Joint Force Command, and worked in the detainee facility under the 4th Infantry Division MPs (2005-06); 
435th Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility in Ramstein Germany (2007)
MOS: Aerospace medical technician
VFW affiliation: Life member of Post 15016 in Des Moines, Iowa
Policy topic: Expanding rural veteran health options and strengthening community bonds between all the stakeholders affected.
“As a [master of social work] student, this fellowship was an opportunity to observe policy in action at the national level. The social work profession emphasizes the importance of advocacy. 
I hope to work with fellow veterans 
in the mental health capacity as a licensed clinical social worker, and this fellowship was pivotal in gaining macro-level perspective.”    


This article is featured in the 2018 June/July issue of VFW magazine, and was written by Kari Williams, associate editor, VFW magazine. Photo by Bob Knudsen.