Iraq Veteran and 2019 MOAA Award Winner Works in Washington to Improve Veteran Care

Iraq Veteran and 2019 MOAA Award Winner Works in Washington to Improve Veteran Care
(Photo by Mike Morones for MOAA)

[Note from MOAA: Former Staff Sgt. Raymond Kelley is a recipient of MOAA's Colonel Paul W. Arcari Meritorious Service Award, which honors congressional staffers who have made significant contributions in support of the military community. Read about all of MOAA's 2019 award winners here.]

By Kristin Davis

After six years as an active-duty Marine that included a year-long deployment to Iraq, Ray Kelley thought he was ready for civilian life. He joined the Army Reserve and enrolled in college.

He left after one semester.

The military had been a tight-knit community, a place of shared successes and constant camaraderie. In college, the individual seemed to count more than the common good. Students competed with one another.

“I didn't fit in,” Kelley says.

Soon, though, he found his calling. AMVETS, an advocacy organization for veterans, had offered him a job.

“I immediately realized some of the transition issues I'd had were happening to a lot of veterans,” says Kelley, who stayed with AMVETS for three years before becoming legislative director for Veterans of Foreign Wars in 2010.

He watched as veterans found greater success in college through organizations like Student Veterans of America that build a network of veterans on campuses. At the urging of his wife, Kelley gave college another try - and was successful.

In 2016, he became minority staff director on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee under Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), a job that allowed him to further his work on behalf of servicemembers - and which has earned him MOAA's 2019 Paul W. Arcari Meritorious Service Award.

“Everything we pass out of this committee touches the life of a veteran or their family member,” says Kelley, who helped push for the VA MISSION Act, which aims to provide veterans with better access and care.

“VA health care gets a bad rap. It's a great place to get care. It's where I get my care. I feel very strongly about that,” he says. “We have to make sure we have access to care and that benefits are delivered quickly and on time. I'm proud of any work that ensures that.”

Kelley also helped to get House approval of blue-water Navy legislation that would extend eligibility for disability and health care to Vietnam-era veterans exposed to Agent Orange while serving aboard ships, and he has worked to make sure veterans who received discharges other than honorable due to service-related conditions such as PTSD can get access to care.

“We're reaching back and capturing those people who may have been isolated because of conduct that was a result of where they served,” Kelley says. “We can get them to be as successful a member of society as they'd like to be.”

Related reading: MOAA's 2019 Award Winners.

Arthur T. Marix Congressional Leadership Award

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe

Sen. Jon Tester

Distinguished Service Award

Retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Dana Bowman


Colonel Paul W. Arcari Meritorious Service Award

Former Staff Sgt. Ray Kelley

Tony McClain

Retired Lt. Col. Dan Sennott