David J Puentes- It does not come as news to many that the number of military veterans in Congress has significantly declined over the last few decades. From the mid 1960s through the late 1970s, the proportion of military veteran legislators remained at around 75%. Since then, however, the number has drastically dropped to approximately 20%.
This decline is attributed to many things. One possible reason is the ever-increasing cost of running an effective campaign which many veterans may not have the funds or connections to obtain. Another reason is that veterans are turned off by the level of partisanship in Congress.
As a response to this decline, many groups have sprung up in attempts to support military veterans running for office, such groups such as the National Defense PAC and Combat Veterans for Congress. Other organizations have taken up the mission of persuading veterans to continue to serve their nation as representatives and aid them regarding the steps necessary to campaign effectively, such as Veteran’s Campaign.
These efforts may be paying off in some ways as evident in the 2014 mid-term elections. While the number of overall veterans in the legislature dropped, the number of veterans from the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan rose. Twenty-two veterans of these conflicts won their elections, six Democrats and sixteen Republicans. Prior to these elections, the recent tally was of only seventeen veterans of the current conflicts in the legislature. This raises the question as to whether the overall decline of military veterans in Congress or the increase as to younger veterans of recent conflicts is more telling as to the future of military veteran representation in the legislature.
Many may question why the amount of veterans in Congress is even a concern. In the wake of scandals such as the implosion of the Veteran Affairs’ false reporting practices, the conflicts ongoing in Iraq and Syria, and the 2013 government shutdown, some believe that military veterans may be able to prevent repeats of the recent past. There are those that would point to military service as a sign that the candidate understands that “there are key times to come together for the country.” Others, still, point to the fact that “[v]eterans have demonstrated their willingness to put America and its citizens before their own well-being.” Sen. Lautenberg, D-NJ, and Rep. Hunter, R-CA, have also commented as to their beliefs, as veterans, that Congress gains much from having veterans in the legislature.
It deserves mentioning, as well, that when talks regarding the legality of President Obama’s plan to begin air strikes against ISIS began, it was Rep. Issa, R-CA, a veteran Captain in the U.S. Army who introduced a bill to the House of Representatives to grant President Obama authority beyond contest to confront ISIS.
Whether or not these opinions would necessarily lead to a more effective and efficient Congress, however, remains to be seen if the representation of veterans begins to rise, despite the recent trend.
These questions regarding the under-representation of veterans in Congress, the Veterans Affairs scandal and subsequent legislation, the potential involvement of military veterans in legislature with regards to veteran benefits, and many others shall be commented upon by experts in the field in the University of Miami School of Law, National Security and Armed Conflict Law Review’s Symposium on November 14, 2014. CLE credit can also be earned through an ethics presentation after the two panels.
For a full listing of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who ran for office in the 2014 elections and the results, visit: http://projects.militarytimes.com/elections/candidates.