Changes on the Hill - Vets in Congress

November 10, 2016

Servicemembers and their families are already asking how the election results are likely to affect MOAA's efforts on Capitol Hill.

President-elect Donald Trump surprised pundits by winning the White House; Republicans defied expectations of some and managed to hold on to both the House and the Senate. 

The latest election results, combined with a number of legislator retirements, mean the military and veterans community will be losing some legislators who have been among the strongest supporters of military personnel issues in the past, including:

  • Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) retires after 34 years in office. Reid, a long-time champion of providing full concurrent receipt, will be missed. Finding a new Senate sponsor for concurrent receipt will be a key MOAA priority in 2017.
  • MOAA's 2016 Marix Award winner, Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.), who supported a range of pay and health care protections as chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, left the House to run for Reid's Senate seat - but lost that race.
  • MOAA's 2015 Marix Award winner and Senate Armed Services Committee member Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), who led the successful fight to repeal unfair cuts to military retiree benefits, lost her re-election bid to Maggie Hassan.
  • Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) and champion of the successful charge to eliminate the SBP age-62 offset for military widows a decade ago, is retiring from Congress this year.
  • After a congressional redistricting, Randy Forbes (R-Va.), chair of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, lost in a primary election earlier this year. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) also lost her primary and stepped down as ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC).
  • John Fleming (R-La.) leaves the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) to become a senator.
  • HASC members Chris Gibson (D-N.Y.), Gwen Graham (D-Fla.), John Kline (R-Minn.), and Richard Nugent (R-Fla.) are all retiring.

We will miss these legislators, as well as the strong support of their staffs. MOAA thanks them for their dedicated service to the men and women in uniform and wishes them well in all of their future endeavors.

With Brown's departure as HVAC ranking member, Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), a retired Army National Guard E-9, and Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) are angling for the top Democratic spot on the committee.

The number of veterans serving on Capitol Hill will continue its long decline when the 115th Congress convenes next year.

In the House, the percentage of members who served in the uniformed services could slip to less than 17 percent - the lowest level since before World War II. As few as 73 veterans will head to Washington in January. The final number won't be known until mid-December, after Louisiana's run-off races take place for the 3rd and 4th districts. A total of 81 representatives - nearly 19 percent - had served in uniform at the start of the 114th Congress.   

The number in the Senate increases by one to 21 veterans. While the chamber loses a veteran with the departure of Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), it gains Tammy Duckworth (D- Ill.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.). 

The representation of veterans in Congress has declined steadily since it peaked at 74 percent for the House (1969-70) and 78 percent for the Senate (1977-78).

Some of the decline can be explained by an inevitable demographic shift. As fewer members of the overall population serve in uniform, so has the proportion of veterans serving in elected office.
However, the number of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans serving in Congress continues to grow, with 26 heading to the Hill in 2017.

Comrades in Arms

That said, just because a legislator is a veteran doesn't necessarily mean they support our issues.

In fact, some of MOAA's staunchest legislative supporters have been non-veterans, and some who have staunchly opposed our personnel and compensation efforts in the past have been veterans.

What the declining veteran population does mean is we have a continuing challenge to educate legislators and their staffs on the unique conditions and exceptional sacrifices inherent in decades of uniformed service that defy comparison with a civilian career.

To that end, MOAA works hard to maintain good working relationships with legislators and staff members on both sides of the aisle and with veterans and non-veterans alike.

The real battles are usually fought over funding. Heightened concern over the budget will continue to make resisting disproportional defense cuts a significant challenge in future years, regardless of which party is in charge.

 

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