Philadelphia, PA (January 27, 2017)–Retired Army Major Scotty Smiley, a Spokane resident who was blinded by a suicide bomber in 2005 in Iraq, spoke at the joint House-Senate Republican Members retreat today after accepting the Congresswoman’s invitation to join. The annual bicameral Republican retreat, organized by the Congressional Institute, took place January 25-27 in Philadelphia. Members heard from key national leaders, including President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Peyton Manning. During the course of the retreat, House and Senate Republicans discussed legislative priorities for the year, with policy sessions focusing on health care, tax reform, and national security.
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We’re live with Spokane Army Major Scotty Smiley at #GOPretreat
Posted by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers on Friday, January 27, 2017
“Scotty Smiley is a hometown American hero whose leadership and strong faith set an example for us all,” said Rep. McMorris Rodgers. “I asked him and his wife to speak at our retreat because their attitude and approach to life is inspiring. Even though Scotty suffered a traumatic, life-changing injury, he is making an impact in the world, and I think his determination and vision of ‘service before self’ as a way to change the world is something our leaders need to hear.”
“Together, Tiffany and I have overcome so much through teamwork and it is an honor to have the opportunity to share our story with leaders of our country,” said Retired Army Major Scotty Smiley. “With hope and courage there is nothing that can’t be overcome.”
Learn more about Tiffany and Scotty Smiley here: http://hopeunseen.com/.
On Dec. 28, 2016, Scotty Smiley’s wife, Tiffany, authored an op-ed that ran in the Wall Street Journal titled “Our Post War Trauma at the VA,” which detailed the layers of bureaucracy that Scotty faced when trying to get medical assistance and therapy after being injured in Iraq. The full text of Tiffany’s op-ed can be found here and below. The Congresswoman has long been a champion of veterans and a strong advocate for reforming the VA. She often refers to the VA as “losing sight of its mission to put our veterans first.” In December, President Obama signed into law Rep. McMorris Rodgers’ VA reform bill, the Faster Care for Veterans Act, which requires the VA to adopt technology that allows veterans to schedule appointments online. More information about the bill can be found here.
Our Postwar Trauma at the VA
My husband was blinded in Iraq. At the VA rehab center, he was given books on cassette. Cassettes!
By Tiffany Smiley
Dec. 28, 2016
On an April day in Iraq in 2005, my husband’s world went black.
It came by way of a suicide car bomb. In one second, all the plans we had—for a military career, children and a happy life—seemed to go out the window. Quickly we learned that the federal bureaucracy, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, that would determine so much of our future was not up to the job.
My first encounter with the military bureaucracy came days after I arrived at Walter Reed to see Scotty, a West Point graduate, after he’d been flown in from Iraq. This was the other side of the country for me, away from everything and everyone I knew. I was supposed to be on “orders” and receiving a stipend for food, but somewhere along the way someone filled out the form incorrectly. The man I spoke to said that it would be a huge hassle to try to fix it, which seemed ridiculous in light of all that had happened, but I just accepted what he told me.
We got by on Scotty’s first lieutenant pay and the generosity of friends and family. But there has to be a better way for our federal government to make it easier for the spouses, parents and siblings who have to quit their jobs and forfeit their livelihoods to care for an injured veteran.
My next challenge came when we entered the world of rehabilitation for the blind. Scotty was 24-years-old and had his whole life ahead of him. I knew he needed a center that would teach him new things, challenge him and give him the confidence that he would once again be a contributing member of society. We were promised customized care at a blind rehab center. Unfortunately, when we got there, it was clear that no one was ready to rehabilitate post 9-11 warriors.
Here’s an example. We kept asking for computer training because we knew that technology and computers were going to be key to a future of dignity and productivity for Scotty. So imagine how appalled I was when I was informed that computer training came last—behind belt braiding and woodshop. Also, he was given books on cassette. Cassettes!
Meanwhile, a wonderful church community in Georgia sent Scotty an iPod with tons of books and music already downloaded on it. What a lifesaver that was. It helped give Scotty hope that his future was not going to be braided belts and cassette tapes.
It should not be this hard.
Once retired, Scotty spent most of his days filling out paperwork to get VA grants that were offered—things like housing grants to adapt our home to be safer and more efficient for him. After spending a month filling out these forms and searching for and contacting the right people, my husband was informed that he was not eligible for the largest grant because although 100% disabled and completely blind he needed to be missing a limb as well to qualify. Needless to say we shredded the forms and chalked it up to another government promise that would never become reality.
In a world where technology is making almost all aspects of life easier, why isn’t there a website, a liaison, or an advocate to fill out government paperwork and get deserving veterans the benefits they were promised and deserved? When I asked for help, someone suggested we hire a lawyer.
Most recently, Scotty had an infection that needed emergency care. Upon arriving at the VA emergency room, which was packed, I noticed that there were at least four people behind the counter for paperwork. They informed us it would be a four to five hour wait to see a doctor.
As Scotty’s wife and caregiver, I quickly had to navigate staying with Scotty and a 3-year-old in a VA ER waiting room for five hours, then having to leave him so I could be home to get our kids off the bus only to return and pick Scotty up later. I was left wondering, what if I could not have left Scotty?
At every turn in this experience, this army wife has been asked to give more and more. Don’t get me wrong: It is an honor to serve and be a hero to a hero. But often I find myself thinking about the soldier who does not have an advocate. What about the private who does not have a spouse?
We’ve been running our own business now for about six years, and I know that any business would fail with these VA kinds of policies. We’re fortunate that we have options others do not. We bought his first talking phone, and now his iPhone that he uses like any other sighted individual; this solution worked for us, but I know there are many families that wouldn’t be able to afford to buy those things.
Our men and women who have sacrificed on the battlefield deserve better when they come home. So unlike others who worry that our new president is a businessman, this background gives me hope. Because unlike most federal agencies, the VA is primarily about dealing with people—customers. If Donald Trump hopes to make America great again, a good start would be making the VA run more like a business, and giving the customer what the customer needs.
Mrs. Smiley is a caregiver, writer and motivational speaker