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Representatives Kathleen Rice & Brian Mast Introduce 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 16, 2018 | comments

WASHINGTON – U.S. Representatives Kathleen Rice (NY-04) and Brian Mast (FL-18), both members of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, today introduced 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 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.” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) will be introducing companion legislation in the U.S. Senate.

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 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. 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.”

“There’s no doubt that female veterans face unique challenges and healthcare needs that the VA has not yet been able to successfully address.  Fixing this critical failure starts at the top and changing the mission statement is a needed first step,” Representative Mast said.  “I also know personally that when I deployed to Afghanistan and was injured, it wasn’t just a challenge for me, but it deeply impacted my wife and our entire family.  Acknowledging the ongoing needs of families, caregivers and survivors is another critical improvement.”  

“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.”

“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, Rep. Rice and Rep. Mast, and we call on Congress to immediately act to make this historic change into law.”

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. 

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.

Earlier this year, Representative 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 vote on the amendment.

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