U.S. needs more vet­er­ans in pol­i­tics

The Progress-Index - - OPINION -

Forty years ago, mil­i­tary vet­er­ans made up roughly three-quar­ters of Congress. By 2017, the pro­por­tion had dwin­dled to fewer than one in five. The num­ber of vet­er­ans on Capi­tol Hill will dip slightly again next year, be­cause of re­tire­ments - but the elec­tions of 2018 were none­the­less a turn­ing point of sorts. At least 170 vet­er­ans re­ceived ma­jor-party nom­i­na­tions for na­tional of­fice and at least 75 won of­fice. (The fig­ures are es­ti­mates: There’s no of­fi­cial tally.) Of these, at least 18 are new to Congress - the most in nearly a decade. Amer­i­cans should care about this.

Un­til an age of peace and har­mony dawns - lit­tle sign of this yet - Congress needs the per­spec­tive and ex­pe­ri­ence of for­mer ser­vice mem­bers, par­tic­u­larly those who’ve served in the post-9/11 era. A shared back­ground in the armed forces might help check the ex­ces­sive par­ti­san­ship that hob­bles Amer­ica’s sys­tem of gov­ern­ment. And with polls show­ing Congress to be deeply un­pop­u­lar, an in­flux of mem­bers from the in­sti­tu­tion Amer­i­cans con­tinue to re­spect the most cer­tainly can’t hurt.

So it’s good news that in­creas­ing num­bers of the 3.3 mil­lion vet­er­ans who joined up after the Sept. 11 at­tacks are opt­ing to take on “sec­ond ser­vice” in pol­i­tics. Good, too, that the tally of fe­male vet­er­ans is go­ing up. Also worth not­ing: More than one-third of the vet­er­ans elected were Democrats, and they played a key role in flip­ping the House.

Maybe the new in­flux can give vet­er­ans’ is­sues a bit more of the at­ten­tion they de­serve. For in­stance, health records at the De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs need to be more quickly brought into the dig­i­tal age - an era that has in fact ar­rived, though not ev­ery­where. Im­prov­ing in­sur­ance cov­er­age for re­pro­duc­tive health care and re­form­ing the vet­er­ans’ dis­abil­ity sys­tem would be wel­come too. While cam­paign­ing, many of the vet­er­ans promised to im­prove the ser­vices’ meth­ods for deal­ing with sex­ual as­saults. That’s over­due.

Be­yond vet­er­ans’ par­tic­u­lar in­ter­ests, for­mer ser­vice mem­bers would carry ex­tra weight in push­ing for a new le­gal au­tho­riza­tion for Amer­ica’s sprawl­ing con­flicts against ter­ror­ism. The ex­ist­ing 2001 mea­sure is badly out of date.

Vet­er­ans in larger num­bers can’t fix what ails the coun­try - but one ex­pects that, as a group, they’ll bring dis­ci­pline, duty and a com­mit­ment to coun­try be­fore pol­i­tics. Congress has been lack­ing in those traits lately.

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