By Jim Massey
Cpl, USMC (1985-89)
Partisan politics. The “my way of the highway” mentality we see in and out of politics. The day of acknowledging differing viewpoints and attempting to reach some kind of middle ground that satisfies both sides of an argument seem to be an anachronism from a time centuries ago, even though the reality is that it has only been a devolution of the past couple decades. But how have we gotten here? How could we, citizens of the United States of America, allow this downward spiral to take place? Because when you look at the big picture, we are at fault. We are the ones who keep fueling the fires of division. It is time to take a step back from the hyper-partisan world we live in, take a deep breath, and look inside ourselves. It is possible to change the dynamic we see in play, but it has to start with us.
The majority of my life, from the time I was 8 or so (I’m 52 now), has been spent in the service of others. At that young age, I was unable to cognitively define what I was doing, only that I knew, inside, that I was doing the right thing. Shoveling driveways or mowing lawns of elderly neighbors, helping complete strangers with any variety of tasks, learning the things that would make me more effective as a person through Scouting and the Red Cross—the list could go on for a while, so I’ll spare you the broad details. I consider myself extremely fortunate in that I truly believe my parents did an incredible job raising me to be the person I am today, but the one thing that was the most instrumental in fine-tuning the skills I already possessed—leadership, working with others as a team, integrity, and serving others without seeking recompense—was enlisting in the United States Marine Corps after high school.
In a sense, I guess I was your typical 18 year-old in that I was ready to take on the world, although I had no clue what that really entailed or how I would go about it. About 4 months after graduation, I knew there had to be more, that I needed the proverbial kick in the seat to get me going in the right direction. Don’t get me wrong. In my short 18 years, I had already accomplished more professionally than most see in their first 25 years, having assumed a management role at my job as a junior in high school. Yet something was missing. The transformation from civilian to Marine is something nobody can relate with, save other Marines. This probably seems cliché, but it is reality. Boot Camp was everything I expected it to be and more. The ties I have, not only the Brothers and Sisters with whom I served directly, but with complete strangers all around the world, cannot be described with the exception of the one thing that binds us—World War 2 vets, all the way through those having served in the war on terror—the title Marine. I don’t say this to sound superior or to downplay the role played by those who are serving/have served in the other branches of the US Armed Forces, as we all have our own unique roles to play in the modern world, and although we may give each other 9 kinds of hell for being in the “wrong” branch, we will defend and support each other with our dying breaths. All this coming from 4 years of service in my beloved Corps…as one of our many monikers states, “the change is forever.” It truly is.
Fast-forward to 2016. My youngest son joined our ranks and earned the title Marine. By 2017, all 3 of my wife’s kids were serving in the Army, just as their mother did, all having the “serving others” mentality firmly entrenched (including 2 of my sons who chose other paths). When my son graduated Boot Camp, I personally met a couple of Marines whom I befriended initially through social media—they felt it important to be there for him, to welcome him to our ranks. It is through this friendship that a completely unexpected journey began.
Once I got serious about “growing up” after I got out, I went back to college, and completed my BS in Political Science 20 years after graduating high school, then pursued my Master’s, graduating at the end of 2006. I chose to specialize in Congress, and devoted a majority of my advanced studies there. In early 2018, one of the Marines who attended my son’s graduation (Gunnery Sergeant Keith Brownmiller), who will always be “Gunny” to me (it’s a Marine thing—as a Corporal, I could never bring myself to call anyone at the rank of Gunny on up by their given name…their first name is GUNNY ), contacted me about a Marine out in California who was suffering from a severe case of medical malpractice at the hands of a contractor physician at his local VA, and asked if I knew of anyone with experience with knowledge on drafting legislation and what was necessary to get things moving in Congress.
*Insert round peg into round hole here.*
There was absolutely no hesitation, no questioning why I should get involved—it is something I’ve done all my life. A veteran needed help (that he happens to be a brother Marine actually had nothing to do with my decision) and I possessed the skill set needed to get the job done.
You can never go wrong doing the right thing because it’s the right thing.
After numerous phone calls and emails with Gunny and the Marine involved—Sergeant Brian Tally—I had enough information to get started on an initial draft bill. More phone calls. More emails. After a week, we had our version of what is now known as the Tally Bill ready to present to members of the House of Representatives in hopes of obtaining sponsorship. 31 October 2018, HR7105—the original version of the Tally Bill—was given life. You’ll probably curse me for saying this, but think about the old Schoolhouse Rock videos (you know where I’m going, and the tune is already running through your head). Other than to say the actual legislative process is much more complex, the basic tenets are true: if a bill doesn’t make it out of committee, it dies. Such was the fate of 7105—the 115th Congress ran out of time and our bill died.
Fortunately, we lucked out and had the Tally Bill picked back up at the start of the 116th Congress as HR3813. Not too long after that, another bill carrying the Tally Bill name, HR4526, was introduced, but it only has a fraction of the “meat” 3813 has. Regardless of which one makes it, it has the potential to correct/start correcting a grievous loophole in the law, and will finally offer protection to veterans when it comes to medical care at the hands of the VA or its contractors.
Why the long story to get to this point? Simple. You can never go wrong doing the right thing because it’s the right thing. It isn’t a question of doing what is popular or doing something that will benefit you—selfless service will ALWAYS be remembered as an example. Planting that seed has the potential to reap benefits far beyond anything we could possibly anticipate. Doing for others will lead to others doing for others, ultimately realizing we have more in common with our neighbors than we have differences. Once we reach that point, we will once again be in the position to accept that alternate viewpoints exist, and it will be easier to find that common ground from which we as a people can move forward. Once we reach that point, we will be in a position to demand that kind of action from our elected officials, because we won’t accept anything less than doing what is best for all Americans, not just a select few.