Note from MOAA: Maj. J.C. Henry, USAF (Ret), is a recipient of MOAA's Colonel Paul W. Arcari Meritorious Service Award, which honors congressional staff members who have made significant contributions to the uniformed services community. Read more about MOAA’s 2021 award winners.
By Kristin Davis
Maj. J.C. Henry, USAF (Ret), planned to stay in the military for four years and then go to college. By his own admission, he didn’t follow politics at all.
But as it turned out, Henry, who grew up in Pennsylvania, stayed in the Air Force almost 25 years. During that time, he deployed 11 times, including four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Henry would be a commander in Germany right now had he not discovered another way to make a difference that appealed to him — as a staff member on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
“I was in the military to effect change and [affect] people’s lives,” Henry said. “As an enlisted guy and as an officer, my military career was about taking care of folks. The allure of Capitol Hill is that I can effect change at a macro level.”
In 2017, the Air Force selected Henry from a pool of 1,740 eligible officers to serve as one of its 23 fellows for DoD. As legislative fellow for Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Henry served as the primary advisor on all defense, homeland security, and foreign policy legislative areas. Working with the ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee steered his career in a new direction.
“I believe everything happens for a reason, and if I didn’t land in Jon Tester’s office, I would probably still be in the Air Force,” said Henry, who has introduced multiple bills that prioritize helping veterans.
He retired from the military instead, and six months after the fellowship ended, he returned to the committee as a professional staff member with the ability to advocate for veterans affected by Agent Orange. Henry was part of the team effort that called for thousands of veterans to receive care and benefits thanks to language included in the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act — adding bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism to the list of conditions connected to Agent Orange exposure.
“I think my background and the success I had in the military transcended to Capitol Hill,” he said. “I had great working relationships with my counterparts on the Republican side of the Senate and House. We accomplished so much as a team over the last year.”
Henry is advocating that the 117th Congress pass S. 3393, sponsored by Tester and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). The Major Richard Star Act would allow military retirees to receive both military retired pay and disability compensation without one being offset.
His background as a veteran and the sacrifices made by his family — his wife, Robyne, and four daughters, Alexis, Emerie, Ellasyn, and Elynn — fuel his commitment to the men and women who have dedicated their lives to the armed forces.
“We need to do better,” Henry said. “And we will do better.”