Here's What Your Member Of Congress Can Actually Do For You

When and how to ask your representative and senators for help.

Congress the institution might be useless, but the members of Congress who represent you can be quite helpful.

Representatives and senators have entire teams of staff members devoted to serving their constituents, regardless of whether you voted for that person on Election Day. If you aren't sure which representative and senators serve you, look it up here.

Here are some of the times you might want to ask your members for help:

Help With Federal Agencies
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Having trouble with Medicare, Social Security or veterans benefits, the IRS, your passport or immigration situations? Your member of Congress might be able to help. But, as Brad Fitch of the Congressional Management Foundation advises, the key is to make sure you don't procrastinate and that you have a legitimate case.

Even if he really wants to help, your member of Congress can't do much if you notify the office at 5 p.m. Friday about a family member set to be deported Monday morning. Likewise, members of Congress can't help you circumvent the law, and they can only help you resolve matters that fall under federal jurisdiction.

Each member has staffers -- usually based in their district -- who focus on helping constituents with these problems. Before they can inquire on your behalf, though, the office must have a privacy release form, notes Kathie Green, director of constituent services for Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.). Each office has its own form, which can be found on its website.

You must contact a member of Congress who represents you; otherwise, they can't help you. Green points out that you should contact the office of only one member of Congress. Asking multiple offices to help you further burdens the agencies they're contacting and doesn't improve your chances of getting help.

"From a constituent standpoint, sometimes it's hard to have patience," Green said. Congressional staffs "do the best job possible" and have developed relationships with federal agencies to help you as quickly as they can.
White House Tours
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You must submit public White House tour requests through your member of Congress. You should ask between 6 months and 21 days before the requested date.
Congratulatory Letters
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Most congressional offices have a page on their websites where you can request a congressional commendation, or a letter from the member of Congress to recognize an achievement or honor. Requests can also be mailed to the offices. Many offices ask you to allow 30 to 60 days to receive the letter.

Members of Congress send letters for a variety of occasions, including milestone birthdays, Eagle Scout Awards, Girl Scout Gold Awards, citizenship, military academy appointments, retirements, births, graduations and weddings.
U.S. Capitol Tours
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You may request a Capitol tour through the office of your representative or senator. Many offer staff-led tours to constituents. Otherwise, they can help you book a general tour through the Capitol Visitor Center. (You can also request a tour directly through the center.)
Visit To Galleries Of The House Or Senate
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You can request a pass to visit the House or Senate galleries from your representative or either senator from your state. Capitol tours do not include access to the galleries.
Military Academy Nominations
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If you're applying to a U.S. military academy (such as West Point, the U.S. Air Force Academy or the U.S. Naval Academy), you will need a nomination, such as a congressional one. (There are other possible types of nominations, but congressional nominations are available to anyone.)

You may apply for a nomination from each member of Congress who represents you -- your U.S. representative as well as both senators from your state. Each member of Congress is allowed to have a maximum of five cadets at each academy at one time and is allowed to nominate up to 10 individuals at one time.
Flag Requests
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You can purchase American flags through congressional offices, and you can request to have the flag first flown over the Capitol for an additional fee. Requests to fly the flag on a specific date must be made in advance. Most congressional offices have a form or link on their website where you can purchase the flag and request to have it flown over the Capitol.
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