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As the Number of Women Veterans Continues to Grow, Representative Kathleen Rice & Senator Gillibrand Announce Legislation to Revise Department of Veterans Affairs Mission Statement to be More Inclusive of Women Veterans and Surviving Family Members

Bill Would Change the Department’s Mission Statement to Ensure VA Motto Reflects the Contributions of the Thousands of Women Who Have Served and Are Serving Our Country

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Washington, November 8, 2018 | comments

WASHINGTON – U.S. Representative Kathleen Rice, a member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced they will introduce a new bill to revise the mission statement for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to be more inclusive of women veterans and surviving family members. The current VA mission statement is a quotation from President Abraham Lincoln that reads: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.” As it stands, this mission statement fails to recognize the service and sacrifice of the thousands of women in uniform who have served the United States.  The bill Rice and Gillibrand are introducing would change the mission statement to read: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those ‘who shall have borne the battle’ and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.”

The number of women serving on active duty has grown substantially in recent decades – over 345,000 women have deployed since 9/11 – and as a result, the number of women veterans is expected to reach a record high.                                                                                         

“As women continue to play an increasingly vital role in our armed forces, they’ve become a larger and more prominent part of our veteran community,” said Representative Kathleen Rice. “But unfortunately, the Department of Veterans Affairs mission statement simply does not reflect that reality. The brave women who have worn our nation's uniform and their families deserve to be equally embraced by the motto of the very agency meant to support them. As we prepare to observe Veterans Day, this bill will finally give women veterans the recognition they deserve for their service and sacrifice – it’s long overdue and anything less is unacceptable.”

“Women have served in our military and given their lives to defend our nation since the founding of the country, and that includes the thousands of women who have made the brave and selfless decision to serve in our armed forces around the world today. It’s time for the VA’s motto to formally reflect that fact,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation to recognize the extraordinary sacrifice of all of our veterans, including women veterans, and I urge my colleagues to fight with me to quickly pass it into law. Our women veterans were willing to give their lives to this country, and I will always do everything in my power to make sure their service and sacrifices are given the respect they deserve.”

“The tone of every organization is set at the top.  With its motto, the US Department of Veterans Affairs is telling women veterans and survivors of fallen women service members that they aren't seen.  That they don't matter,” said Allison Jaslow, Iraq War Veteran and former Executive Director of IAVA.  “Modernizing the VA's motto isn't a matter of political correctness, but respect for the over 2 million women veterans in America today.  It’s time for the VA to follow the likes of West Point and the Air Force Academy by updating its language to be more inclusive of those it serves.”

In addition to changing the mission statement, the bill will also require that within 30 days of enactment, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs publish a notification on the department’s website explaining the mission statement change, update each department website, and issue guidance and a timeline to the entire department for updating all previous mission statement references. Within six months, the Secretary will be required to submit a report to Congress on the department’s compliance.

"A long overdue motto change would recognize and support women veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors on the biggest level possible," said Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff. “This new legislation retains the heart of Lincoln’s historic statement while placing the outdated statement in the history books. IAVA profoundly appreciates the leadership of Sen. Gillibrand and Rep. Rice, and we call on Congress to immediately act to make this historic change into law.”

The VA’s current mission statement underscores larger feelings of disenfranchisement and inequality among women veterans. A study recently published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on mental health care services at VA provided insight into women veterans’ experiences at VA facilities and the challenges they face in accessing mental health services. The study found that women veterans: 

  • Are significantly more likely to believe that they are not entitled to or eligible for VA mental health services;
  • Face unique barriers to VA care, largely related to challenges associated with being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated system, as well as issues that are specific to military sexual trauma (MST); and 
  • Experience frustration with both having to prove they are veterans and combat veterans to VA doctors who question or belittle their war experience.

Rice and Gillibrand plan to introduce this legislation next week. Earlier this year, Representative Kathleen Rice proposed an amendment to the FY 2019 Energy and Water, Legislative Branch, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act that would change the mission statement. However, Republican House Leadership refused to debate or a vote on the amendment.


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Tags: Veterans

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