While summer may seem like a chance for taking a break from advocacy, it’s actually the perfect time to schedule in-district meetings with representatives and senators and educate them on issues related to chronic pain.

“The schedules of elected officials are extremely demanding, sprinting from committee hearings to voting and back again,” says Shaina Smith, Director of State Advocacy and Alliance Development . “Now that they are back home, their daily agendas are more open to sit down and meet with their constituents, including U.S. Pain advocates. This is the time to educate  lawmakers and offer up ways they can support children and adults living with conditions that cause pain. Planting that seed as early as possible in the year will play a significant role once states are back in session and Congress is out of recess.”

To plan for and implement successful meetings with lawmakers, Smith has mapped out a simple plan for advocates to follow:

  1. Look up your lawmaker. Has your elected member of Congress spoken publicly about a particular issue and you would like to weigh in from the chronic pain patient perspective? Has your local representative sponsored a bill that was beneficial to adults and children living with chronic illness?  Decide which individual you would like to sit down with and then look up their contact information using the links below.
    Find your U.S. Senators here.
    Find your U.S. Representatives here.
    Find your state legislators here.
  2. Schedule your meeting. Using the contact information you find, connect with your legislator via email or phone.  Keep in mind that you most likely will be put in touch with a legislative aide, not the legislator themselves. (Legislative aides work closely with legislators; they will report your information and concerns back to them.) Remember to include your name and contact information, your meeting availability, and the issues you would like to discuss. If you would like to represent U.S. Pain as an advocate, make sure you to email shaina@uspainfoundation.org first to get the “green light” that it’s appropriate and fitting to use your title given the issues you are looking to address. If you do not receive a response from the legislator’s office within one week, follow up with a phone call or email; it’s okay to send gentle reminders to the person in charge of scheduling meetings.
  3. Prepare .Sharing your personal story as it relates to legislative issues will show each lawmaker whether you have been impacted positively or negatively. Putting a face to the issue proves that these are real-life situations people with chronic illness are confronting. Practice sharing your pain journey story, writing down bullet points you will want to highlight; don’t be afraid to bring in some notes to stay on-task and not stray from pertinent ideas you want to mention. Always keep in mind that time is of the essence; try to keep your story to five minutes or less. Additionally, utilize U.S. Pain Foundation’s advocacy section on the website to  educate yourself on hot legislative topics related patient safety, quality care, and access to treatment. U.S. Pain also has position statements which may prove helpful when looking for talking points to discuss with your Congressmen/women and state lawmakers. Members of the U.S. Pain advocacy team are available and ready to help you frame your discussion points, provide resources, and other support you may need.
  4. Tips during the meeting. Be respectful and professional at all times. Shaking hands, making eye contact, and speaking clearly, slowly and with purpose are all indicators to that lawmaker that you have prepared for this meeting and they should take you seriously. Refrain from the usage of profanity or slang and dress appropriately (business casual). If you have made copies of news articles, studies, position statements, and other educational resources for the state or federal legislator to have, consider providing that in an organized manner, such as a folder. Be mindful of the time so that you have shared your story, concerns and ways the lawmaker can support the chronic pain community without causing the elected official to lose interest (think short and sweet!).
  5. Follow-up activities.  Make sure to thank your elected official for taking the time to meet with you. This can be done via mail, email, or phone. If you have asked your Congressman/woman or local legislator to champion a bill or specific cause, include that within your follow-up correspondence; it’s okay to hold them accountable in a courteous manner.

Outside of scheduling an in-district meeting, consider attending a town hall set up by legislators. View their calendar of events and see if they will be hosting an educational workshop or partaking in a speaking engagement, which gives you an additional opportunity to network and continue fostering a professional relationship with him or her.