And yet there are times when ordinary citizens do extraordinary things. A letter, a call, a meeting with a lawmaker can shape the political landscape. Not paid lobbyists, but public citizens angry over an injustice or aiming, David-and-Goliath-like, to steer policy towards the common good.
Consider Shirin Lane, a soon-to-retire Air Force member from Clinton. Earlier this year, Lane wrote Rep. Rick Larsen to request assistance with her disability rating.
A fibromyalgia diagnosis didn't align with standard VA medical assessments. According to the Mayo Clinic's website, fibromyalgia involves widespread musculoskeletal pain. The disease magnifies agonizing sensations by distorting how a patient's brain processes nerve signals. For Lane, getting hit with a lower disability rating translates into fewer services and benefits from the Department of Veteran Affairs.
The solution involved statutory housekeeping, ensuring that the VA updates its "Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities" criteria. The criteria had not kept up with established medical standards. This applies not only to fibromyalgia, but a range of disorders.
Herein lies the birth of a new veterans' health care policy. One citizen, one lawmaker.
Larsen drafted language that was attached to the VA funding bill. The bill passed the House last week by a 421-4 vote.
"Shirin spoke up, and I listened," Larsen said in a statement. "Health care and benefits for veterans should be determined based on the best medical information available. Thanks to Shirin, they will be."
"I am really grateful to Congressman Larsen and his staff who worked so hard and so quickly to fix this," Lane said. "Even if this policy doesn't affect me, I'm grateful that it will help veterans who come after me."
Here's the money line: "If this Air Force veteran had not told me about her challenge, Congress would not have addressed this problem as quickly as we have," Larsen said.
Lawmakers share similar stories. Citizens make a tangible difference when they speak common sense to power. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is a celebrated example. One court case, one long-term fix.
Thankfully, not every administrative roadblock requires fiddling with the law. Citizens knocking heads with federal agencies can contact their member of Congress. There are case workers to help navigate the bureaucracy.
It's the non-bloviating part of public service.
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