Jason Vieira has fought for his country but never been to its capital.
That is, until Tuesday, when Vieira, 30, of Ronkonkoma, traveled to Capitol Hill for President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address as the guest of U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton).
A former U.S. Marine, he was chosen as Bishop’s guest through his involvement with the program Helmets to Hardhats, which helps returning military personnel transition to careers in the construction industry.
Vieira said he was “ecstatic” when he received the invitation from Bishop.
“What an honor,” he said. “I’ve never actually been to D.C., I’ve just driven past it. This is very cool. It’s a very cool experience.”
He said upon arriving in Washington, he met with Bishop in his office, and the congressman showed him around the capital. They attended a reception for guests who were veterans or active-duty military personnel and then Bishop walked him to his seat in the chamber before the address.
“It was very, I guess, breathtaking to be that up close and personal with the president and to have that experience, especially as a vet, to see how things work,” he said.
Vieira, who was deployed in Iraq, Albania and Liberia, among other countries, said he joined Helmets to Hardhats in 2009. He is a member of Plumbers Local Union 200 and works at Ambrosio Plumbing in Ronkonkoma.
Bishop said each member of Congress receives one guest ticket to the State of the Union, and he chooses someone from the community whose experiences resonate with the message of the president's address.
He said as a veteran and someone who has navigated the current job market and found work, Vieira was a perfect choice.
“He speaks to a number of very important issues in our country,” Bishop said, “the extent to which we need to honor our vets, and not just talk about it, but help them get jobs. That’s what Helmets to Hardhats does.”
Vieira traveled with Bishop aide Erin D’Elletto and returned home Wednesday.
His expenses, including his flight and hotel room, were paid for by money raised through Bishop’s re-election campaign, said Oliver Longwell, a spokesman for Bishop.
Though he’s never had a great interest in politics, Vieira said the experience was invaluable.
“To go down there and to see how it works even if you have little interest in it, it sparks up a different point of view,” he said. “It was indescribable.”