WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representatives Brian Mast (FL-18) and Kathleen Rice (NY-4) today reintroduced legislation to revise the mission statement for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to be more inclusive of women veterans and surviving family members.
“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,” Rep. 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 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 millions of women in uniform who have served our country and their families. This 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.” The bipartisan House bill has 42 original cosponsors and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) will be introducing companion legislation in the U.S. Senate.
“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,” Rep Rice said. “But unfortunately, the Department of Veterans Affairs mission statement simply does not reflect that new 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.”
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 soon expected to reach a record high. In fact, the total population of women veterans is expected to increase at an average rate of about 18,000 women per year for the next 10 years.
"A long overdue motto change at the VA would support women veterans and take a significant and meaningful step in recognizing their military service," Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America CEO Jeremy Butler said. “This new legislation retains the heart of Lincoln’s historic statement while placing the outdated motto in the history books. IAVA applauds the leadership of Reps. Rice and Mast in introducing this important bill, and we call on all Members of Congress to cosponsor and work to pass it 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.