JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The men and women who fight for our freedom are fighting a new battle here at home.
Armed with a legislative agenda, one local veteran is taking the message straight to some of our highest-elected, most prominent local leaders.
Ret. Air Force Sgt. Kris Braddock served more than 20 years in the military.
"Look out for the bad guys, when you see them out there planting bombs ... call in artillery and kill them," said Braddock.
The Clay County man lived to serve his country and he was recognized for doing it. His living room showcases10 medals and 18 ribbons that highlight an illustrious career.
But he says serving can come at a high price. He now sees a mental health counselor after experiencing a traumatic brain injury.
The father of two served a tour in Iraq from 2003-2004 and completed a stint in Afghanistan from 2010-2012.
"Honestly," said Braddock. "most of the people in my peer group are suffering and I admit, I'm one of them."
Since retiring from his military service, he has embarked on a new battle, not overseas but in our nation's capital.
He's a leader with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. It's the country's first and largest organization serving veterans who served in both Middle East countries.
The group represents more than 300,000 veterans nationwide and about 500 in Duval County. Leaders like Braddock work to improve the lives of new veterans and their families through innovative health, education, employment and community programs.
Braddock is meeting with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's legislative staff Tuesday morning. Later that afternoon, he will sit down with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson to continue his discussion on military affairs.
The meetings are part of the 2013 "Summer Storm."
A top priority that Braddock says he will bring up is cutting down the VA's backlog.
According to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, veterans across the United States wait an average of 273 days when filing for treatment like mental health care.
Action News discovered the average wait for Florida veterans is 240 days.
"If a veteran is waiting on mental healthcare, health care, they can't wait two to four years. They need the assistance right away because the damage they're doing to their families and their communities and themselves is on-going."ongoing."
Seeking a faster turnaround for veteran health care isn't the only legislative priority for IAVA.
The group is also pushing for in-state instate tuition for veterans using the GI Bill.
According to the IAVA's legislative agenda, "Since service members are required to relocate based on the needs of of the military, they often find themselves living, renting or buying a home, raising a faimly, family, etc. in states that are not technically their state of residence."
Veterans are forced to pay out-of-state tuition rates that are often far more expensive than their GI benefits can cover.
Braddock says it's also a waste for local taxpayers who are the ones footing the cost for GI benefits. "The taxpayers are going to be the ones who are footing the bill simply because universities don't see them as in-state residents, he said.