Well, the stuff you do with $issue is basically calling the java api behind it - have a look at the api docs for the relevant version of Jira.
Also, if a .vm is not behaving, it can be useful to use simple brute force. What does $issue show? Or $issue.getStatusObject() ?
If all you get is $issue, then the $issue velocity variable doesn't have an issue in it. There's no way any code is going to work - there's nothing to do!
You need to have a $issue to work with.
(Although, I just noticed you've said "$ issue", not "$issue" - make sure you are using $issue)
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