Nov 14, 2018

Veterans in Congress: How They Spark Bipartisanship – and Why the 116th Congress Should Continue this Momentum

This week, we celebrate Veterans Day by honoring the brave men and women who have fought and served to defend the freedom and values that are foundational to our democracy.

Veterans Day was officially established in 1954 but is linked back to November 11, 1918, when an armistice was signed to end World War I. On the 20th anniversary of that signing, Congress declared November 11th as Armistice Day, which honored WWI veterans. Following World War II and the Korean War, the 83rd Congress, in 1954, amended the Act of 1938 and renamed the day as Veterans Day to honor American veterans of all wars. This year, we celebrate 100 years since the signing of the armistice to end World War I as we observe the federal holiday that honors our nation’s service men and women.

Veterans have shaped the future of our nation, both with their selfless sacrifice in defending our values and in their commitment to govern. Did you know that there are over 90 veterans who serve in the 115th Congress? There are more than 75 veterans in the House and 17 veterans in the Senate, with four female veterans total. Of these, eight members of Congress are actively serving in the reserves, and six members are active in the National Guard.

Veterans in Congress have been adamant and united in their fight to support fellow service men and women. The bond of their duty and commitment to the nation has transcended party lines, and they have come together on a bipartisan basis to achieve legislative wins that improve the lives of veterans. This Congress, there have been a number of bipartisan achievements for veterans, including 22 pieces of legislation in the Senate that have been signed into law to reform veterans’ health care and to improve the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) responsiveness to veterans. Here are the top five legislative highlights:

  1. Representatives Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) and Jack Bergman (R-MI) introduced the BATTLE for Servicemembers Act, R. 4954, aimed at preparing veterans for civilian life by giving them tools they need to succeed in their next career. This bipartisan bill will require the Department of Defense to ensure that all eligible servicemembers participate in the Transition Assistance Program, which is tailored to their personal and professional goals post-military.
  2. The VA MISSION Act, 2372, passed both the House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Trump. This act will transform the way veterans can access healthcare by implementing rules for when veterans can go to private doctors as opposed to the VA, based on factors like wait times, quality of care, and location. It also includes incentives to hire more health care providers to meet the quality and quantity of healthcare support that veterans need.
  3. The Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, 1094, was signed into law in June 2017. The legislation works to ensure veterans receive the best care possible by improving the VA’s accountability and disciplining employees who are found guilty of misconduct.
  4. Signed into law in August 2017, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, R. 3218, helps service members in their transition to civilian life by ensuring they have proper education benefits to fit their needs. It also reforms the post-9/11 G.I. Bill by removing a 15-year expiration of the benefit.
  5. The Veterans Appeals and Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, R. 2288, which was also signed into law in August 2017, modernizes the VA’s outdated benefits claims appeals process and ensure that veterans do not have to face unreasonable delays.

These bipartisan wins demonstrate the ability of legislators from opposing political parties to work together towards a common goal. This kind of collaboration across party lines can become the norm with a new committee to reform Congress. By assessing the functionality of Congress and recommending areas for improvement, the committee would help create a more efficient and effective government—and would establish a standard of both parties working together to achieve results. Call on your elected officials to make this committee a reality in the incoming 116th Congress!

Is Congress Working for You?