Bruno goes to Washington: Nevada’s Veteran of the Month sets his sights on national issues

I’ve kept up with Bruno Moya since 2013, when I wrote about him and some of the other Marines of Las Vegas-based Fox Company that had been part of the Baghdad invasion 10 years earlier. Every so often, I call Moya to get his take on a veterans’ issue that’s in the headlines or find out how his psychology studies at UNLV are going. I knew Moya had become a student vet volunteer and, judging from social media posts of him mugging with the likes of Dina Titus, that he’d done some political advocacy.

But he doesn’t toot his own horn much. So, even though my latest check-in was at a ceremony this morning honoring Moya as Nevada’s Veteran of the Month (pictured at right with his daughter Ixtel and wife Iris), I was surprised by the scale of his accomplishments: president of the 1,500-member UNLV Rebel Vets organization; chairman of Senator Dean Heller’s veterans advisory committee; guest at President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address.

But it’s Moya’s quieter acts that caused Ross Bryant, director of UNLV’s Military and Veteran Services Center, to nominate him for the award. At the ceremony, Bryant gave examples of students Moya had helped as a volunteer for Peer Advising for Veterans Education, or PAVE. One, a combat Marine, “had some challenges,” Bryant said. “As his mentor, Bruno was able to prevent this guy from going down a destructive path, where he probably would have killed himself.”

I asked Moya what it was like, having done so much by the age of 33, and where he’ll go from here.

Since I wrote about you three years ago, a lot has changed.

A ton, yes.

 

When you look back over that time, what stands out as especially significant?

I came to the realization that veterans really need to take the lead. It's up to us, really, to take charge and set an example. … The more I did, the more people really looked up to me, and whatever I said, whenever I helped them out with anything, you know, they really appreciated that. And they'd come back to thank me. And I thought, you know, this is the most effective way of helping out and being part of the community, by being a good example. If there's a veteran in need, just go out there and try to help them out.

 

Was there a moment when you thought, 'Oh my god, I can't believe I'm here'?

Yes. There's this thing they do at the president's State of the nion address where, when he says a certain thing, you stand up and you clap. You see it on TV, you know, with all the congressmen and senators, where they either stand up and clap or they don't. So, at one point, he said something, and I didn't know the lingo, but I thought it was great, so I just stood up and clapped. And everybody was looking at me, because nobody else did it. So, I'm like, this is really weird, but I'm here!

 

What’s next for you?

The thing that I'm really looking forward to is getting my schooling done. I’ll graduate in the spring of 2017 with my master's in social work, so I have quite a bit to do. I was accepted for a HRSA grant, which is a new initiative by President Obama to work with at-risk youth, and that's something I'm really looking forward to. These kids really need an example and a mentor to guide them and be a friend.

 

Anything coming up in veterans’ advocacy?

We're in the process of making our schedule for the fall, but we're also trying to schedule a trip to Washington, D.C. to meet with all our state representatives and talk about some important state and federal issues. We're trying to see anybody who wants to see us. I know we'll probably see all of our state delegation, the VA leadership, and hopefully we'll see somebody a lot bigger.

 

What are the issues you'll bring up with them?

A G.I. extension bill that's been introduced is very important for our country, because it allows one additional year of education for veterans in STEM programs. Some STEM degrees are more than four years, and the GI bill only covers you for four years. So, if you're in a STEM program, that fifth year, it's up to you. This is really important for our economy. The country needs STEM graduates, and this will be an incentive for veterans to get their degrees in STEM fields.

 

The other thing is the Fry Scholarship. Let's say I were to go to Afghanistan and I were killed in action. My daughter would get my GI bill, but she only has up to three years to use the out-of-state tuition waiver. So, if she wants to go to Yale, when she gets there 10 years from now —  because she's only 9 —  she'll have to pay out-of-state tuition. We're trying to change that so that if a child's parent dies when they're three or 10 or whatever, they have as long as they need to apply that waiver.

 

Anything else?

The new UNLV medical school and the VA need to work together. They're in the process, but it needs to be pushed a little more, and student veterans are stepping in to say, "Hey, this needs to happen. It's important to our community." There's a huge veteran population here, and the VA is an outstanding institution, but it's lacking in some ways, and the medical school could help it. And it's great experience for the students going through the medical school too, so it's a win-win.

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