Even though Jorge Rueda has moved on, you get the sense he isn't entirely done with the Senate.
He started as an intern when he was finishing up college - already a Marine Corps infantry veteran by that time. A Puerto Rico native who moved to Miami as teenager, he had served as an embassy guard in Kenya and gone on an Asia deployment with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Now he's advising on international trade in his new job as assistant general counsel in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in Washington, D.C., in the Executive Office of the President.
Rueda is receiving MOAA's 2018 Colonel Paul W. Arcari Meritorious Service Award for his work in the Senate, most recently as senior counsel to Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), ranking member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. He followed a more circuitous route to Congress than his fellow recipient, Samantha Gonzalez, on the House side.
Rueda joined the Marine Corps right out of high school. His older brother was a Marine (and also became an attorney; Carlos Rueda is a deputy district attorney in Denver).
“Since we were kids, my dad would impress on my brothers and me [to be] serving our country,” Rueda says.
When his enlistment ended in 2000, Rueda went back to Miami. He worked in bars and restaurants, “getting the Marine Corps out of my system.”
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His siblings encouraged him to go back to school. He started at Miami Dade College, then transferred to Tufts University near Boston, where he finished up his bachelor's in international relations; his interest partly sparked by the fact that Marine Corps friends had started to deploy.
He almost went back to Miami again but instead enrolled at American University in Washington, D.C., where he earned his law degree and master's in international affairs.
The newly minted attorney who “didn't even know there was a field of veterans law” went to work for Vietnam Veterans of America, helping veterans with disability appeals claims and acquiring “great legacy experience,” he says.
Within a year, the Senate called, and Rueda became a legislative aide, advising Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) on trade, defense, foreign policy, and veterans. He then served as a professional staff member for Tester for two years starting in 2013. He worked on foreign policy and took part in the senator's delegation to the prison at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
An opportunity with the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee advising then-ranking member Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) took Rueda from Tester in 2015, but it wouldn't last because Tester assumed that job in 2017.
They worked on the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act reform bill, and Rueda contributed employment provisions to the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act - bills triggered by the national wait-times scandal revealed at the Phoenix VA medical center. Both bills were signed into law in 2017.
For Rueda, it'll be hard to forget his time in the Senate - especially since he met his fiancée there.
“The Senate has been very kind to me,” he says. “I wouldn't have found my other half if it hadn't been for the Senate. It could be nice going back.”