Thursday, July 12, 2007

ExIntrepid: How to write an effective letter to a politician

Our friend ExIntrepid over at the Blue Water Navy discussion board on Yahoo Groups came up with this, and it is a gem of good sense and great strategy.
Here then is his post:
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What to Write:
When writing a politician the first time, for just about any reason, keep it short - about 3 or 4 paragraphs - or at most one or two pages. In our case, keep to just the one subject; "Blue Water" Navy vets. Don't be tempted to throw in you opinions on illegal immigration, taxes, abortion, or eminent domain laws. If you must write about them, do so in a separate letter.

You can use a template letter, but make sure to put each point IN YOUR OWN WORDS! I can't emphasize how important this is. Think about it; if you're working for a politician, reading mail, and you get 50 letters that are all identical, are you going to pay attention to who sent it? Or will you just begin counting them?

You can be as terse, or as chatty, as your own personality requires. A letter that isn't a cookie-cutter copy of 10 others has to be read and acknowledged to make sure they understand what it is about. The whole point of writing letters about "Blue Water" Navy Vietnam veterans and the Haas vs. Nicholson case is to get that politician or his staff to read and pay attention to it. If you have 50 letters from 50 different people worded individually, I think the politician's staff are going to sit up and take notice of them a lot more than 50 identical letters, with just a signature.

Somewhere in the letter, in no particular order, make sure to do the following:
  • Describe who you or the veteran are and dates/unit/ship served aboard.
  • Describe what you are writing about - in this case "Hass vs. Nicholson"
  • Describe what you want the politician to do. (lean on VA, Nicholson; pass new legislation on "Blue Water" Navy, etc.)
  • Describe the good/bad things that could happen if he helps/ignores the situation. (political consequences)
Remember, don't write anything you wouldn't want to see with your name in the newspaper. Be polite, reasonable, courteous, and most of all, persuasive. Your goal should be to start a dialogue with the politician or his people if at all possible. Further down the line, your voice can be important in improving the DVA for all veterans.

Last, if I have to say it:
  • DO include your name, return address, home phone number, and your personal e-mail address if you have one. Letters that don't have a name and address are likely to be round-filed immediately.
  • DON'T include your social security number, your VA file number, or use a company e-mail account. Company accounts have access to your e-mails, and the politician's office will send you a form if they need your personal information. After you fill it out and sign it they are legally responsible for securing your information.
How to Write:
Hand-written letters:
Hand written letters, even after the Anthrax scare, have always carried the most weight and received the most individual attention. Politicians pay the most attention to voters who feel strongly enough about an issue to actually hand write a letter. Of course, it is important to make sure the politician can read it, so if you don't have good, clear handwriting, it may be better to print or type a letter. You should be aware that since the Anthrax thing, letters may take more than two weeks to get to the politician's office.

Typed or computer printed letters:
If you're like me, it's probably better to use a typewriter or computer to compose and print a letter. A computer, particularly, allows you go back and edit and re-edit until your letter is clear and concise. Just make sure to sign the letter clearly.

Faxes:
I strongly recommend that if you write a letter, you should mail it as opposed to faxing, if possible. Considering how many faxes a politician gets, I think it's quite possible that an individual letter might get lost.

E-mails:
You can use google, or another search engine to find the contact page of all House and Senate members, and they will have a contact form. Make sure to ask for a reply, and make sure to include your personal e-mail account. Avoid using blind accounts (like hotmail), for obvious reasons. You want him to reply to you, so that you can get a direct address to use further down the line. You should also avoid sending templates on websites to communicate, because after his office sees a number of them they'll stop reading them and just count them, if that.

Since the Anthrax scare, e-mails are actually more likely than before to be read and acted on as opposed to just being counted. (The federal government finally discovers the joys of electronic filing and the "paperless office") On the other hand, because of the ease and low cost of using e-mail, politicians get a lot more of it than any other method. I've found it much more effective to get in touch by snail-mail or by phone, and have a person's name as a point of contact. Then you will be able to correspond with the person who has responsibility for your particular case or opinion instead of just e-mailing 'in the blind'.

Who you should write:
Your Local Congressman:
Of course, the very best method of asking questions, getting help, or giving opinions is to actually make an appointment with the politician's office near you. If you are the veteran yourself, and you have an Agent Orange claim denied, pending, or deferred, you should phone, write, or make an appointment with your local congressman. (You know, the one you voted for, right? If you voted against him, maybe he can change your mind. If you're not a registered voter, become one!) It is his JOB to help you deal with the Department of Veteran's Affairs. I'm always amazed at the number of veterans I've spoken to who have not contacted their Congressman for help.

Make an appointment with the person who handles Veteran's problems with the DVA in that office, and go see them. You should bring all of the paperwork by you and from the DVA; your original claim letter, your DD-214, your service records (if you have a copy), and every piece of paper sent by the DVA to you.

As I said before, your representative in the House has the responsibility and the power of the budget. They are the ones who originate the legislation that funds the DVA. Even if your representative is not on one of the House committees responsible for Veterans or the Military spending, he knows someone who is. So, aside from direct help with the DVA, persuading him in the rightness of our cause will help influence legislation to correct our problem with the DVA, one way or another.

Your US Senators:
Like your representative, one or both of your US Senators have people working for them who's primary responsibility is to help veterans with the DVA. Even if you are already getting help from your representative, you can also get help from your Senator(s) office dealing with the DVA. I wouldn't even mention one to the other, just on a 'more is better' principal.

While they do not control spending like the House, the Senate also makes laws, and persuading one or both of your Senators to sponsor legislation to correct or amend the Agent Orange Act to specifically include "Blue Water" Navy Vietnam veterans is a definite goal.

Also as I mentioned somewhere before, besides legislation, the Senate has oversight through their standing committees, of Departments in the Executive branch of the government, to especially include the Department of Veteran's Affairs. An inquiry from a Senator into the wisdom of defying the Court of Appeals for Veteran's Claims can make even Secretary Nicholson pause to think. If we can get a number of Senators from both parties to look into Nicholson's politically negative decisions, he might be persuaded to drop the appeal to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

Furthermore, the Senate has a constitutional duty to "advise and consent" the President on how he runs the executive branch. Consider the effect of a bi-partisan group of Senators "advising" the President that his Secretary of Veteran's Affairs is "interpreting" law to save spending on the backs of war veterans. Perhaps they would "advise" the President that Nicholson's decisions will result in negative political consequences that both parties would really rather not have to deal with later.

Finally, while less likely to get reply, writing Senators on the various Veteran's or Military committees might generate enough interest as to get a response from these committees that will be useful to us. All it costs is a stamp, and it could make a difference. Why not?

Your President:
Writing a Letter to the President has the virtue of being simple, it just takes one letter. On the other hand, it's unlikely you will get the same kind of response that you might get from your congresscritters. On the third hand, Secretary Nicholson works directly for the President, and if enough complaints come in directed at him the president might be persuaded to take steps to rein Nicholson in. Again, it's unlikely, but it is possible, and worth making the effort to contact him with our complaints. Again, all it can cost is a stamp, and every bit helps.

The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals:
To repeat what I've said elsewhere, unless some of us know a Professor of Constitutional Law, or someone who can file a 'Friend of the Court' brief in the Haas vs. Nicholson case, there isn't much we can do to effect the court case. On the other hand, if you DO know a Law Professor or an interest group who could file such a brief, then by all means use all of your powers of persuasion to convince them to do so!

Writing other interested parties:
After you have written your Congressman, your Senator(s), and possibly the President, consider who else might be persuaded to help us:
  • The Republican National Committee AND the Democratic National Committee. After all, I think we want to generate bi-partisan support, don't you think? Like elected politicians, they will have an online contact form you can google.
  • The Presidential Campaign Headquarters for EACH candidate in BOTH parties. Again, google is your friend, and you're actually quite likely to get a response. Plus, if enough of us do so, the candidates may even bring it up in their campaign!
  • Post information and comments on internet Blogs and Forums like FreeRepublic, DemocraticUnderground, Daily Kos, National Review Online, The Captain's Quarters, LittleGreenFootballs, Michelle Malkin, Slate, etc., etc. The more, the merrier.
The goal here is to get the facts of our case out into the public eye, and perhaps if it shows up in enough places, we will begin to draw enough attention to effect the outcome. It may not always be in our favor, but the more we can present our arguments, I can't help but think the more likely we will prevail.
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Thank you sir! This is an outstanding piece of work. Have at it, Readers! Get those letters, emails, faxes, etc. going, and keep the pressure up!

VNVets

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." -- President Abraham Lincoln

"Without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."
--President George Washington

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