Surviving Spouse Corner: How to Become an Effective Advocate

Surviving Spouse Corner: How to Become an Effective Advocate
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It can be very frustrating to find yourself in a position when legislation needs to be changed, but you are unsure where to start.


My nearly 16 years’ experience in legislation as an advocate affords me the opportunity to share with you how you can become more involved in improving military survivor benefits. Many surviving spouses already are seasoned advocates, thanks to MOAA and other veterans service organizations. However, for those who are new to this frontier, the following guidance can help you learn to advocate and navigate the process with confidence.

  • Find your passion. Choose an issue that directly affects you. This will have more of an impact when telling your story.

  • Gather information. Find fact sheets from MOAA’s Surviving Spouses and Friends Facebook page,, your local MOAA chapter (legislative committee), and the Surviving Spouses Virtual Chapter. Construct a simple blog regarding how this issue impacts you as a military surviving spouse. Be yourself. It is important you feel comfortable discussing the issue, even if you do not have all the details. Information can be sent later.

  • Determine whether the issue is local, state, or federal. Some examples include:
    • Federal: Improve VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, remarriage law
    • State: Professional licensure, property tax exemption, benefits of military surviving spouses
    • Local (City/County): Noise abatements, zoning ordinance

  • Cultivate relationships with staffers. This is important because staffers are the ones who will make a difference to move the effort forward. Again, tell your story (brief). Prepare a short bio to help connect you with a staffer and or member when setting up a meeting.

  • Establish a meeting. During COVID-19, meetings will be held via a virtual platform. There are some advantages, such as no parking issues or inclement weather restrictions. If you do not feel comfortable with a virtual meeting, call the elected official’s office and asked for a phone conference appointment with the appropriate staffer or ask to leave a message on staffer’s phone. Even though you did not virtually meet with the staffer or member, what is important is you raised awareness about your issue. Remember, the elected official and staffer — whether it is federal, state or local — work for you. You are their constituent.


A future webinar is being planned to provide specifics on Advocacy in Action, MOAA's signature spring advocacy event.

Read past Surviving Spouse Corners.


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About the Author

Dr. Vivianne Wersel
Dr. Vivianne Wersel

Dr. Wersel was born and raised in a Marine Corps family. She has a long career in military medicine as an audiologist serving military, veterans, and their families and she has been a stalwart advocate for military families, testifying 20 times before Congress.