If you really want to thank a veteran for their service, don’t just say the words, demonstrate it with your actions. When you vote in this year’s midterm election primaries, cast a ballot for a veteran, regardless of political affiliation.
In an age of hyper-partisan divide, ignoring a candidate’s political affiliation can, at first, seem perplexing. However, as Congress’ approval rating continues to plummet, veterans can help elevate the institution’s reputation by prioritizing principles over politics.
The silver lining to this mass exodus is that Congress now has a chance to reshape and redefine itself with new members. And, when it comes to new members that will change the status quo, the election of more veterans may be the answer.
Despite a growing military-civilian divide in our country, many Americans view military service as a desirable quality for their elected officials. For example, according to research by With Honor, a new political action committee focused on helping elect more veterans to Congress, serving honorably in the U.S. military is the single best-testing qualification for a Congressional candidate.
The work that With Honor is doing is important because it provides a concrete solution to an ongoing problem — many Americans overwhelmingly agree that increased partisanship has limited Congress’ ability to be effective. This is obvious when looking at Congress’s most recent approval ratings — just 8 percent of people had a great deal of confidence in the institution according to a PR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll conducted in January 2018.
The January 2018 poll also shows that Americans have lost a great amount of trust in other institutions, too — the media, the FBI, the federal court system and the presidency to name a few. However, the only institution that continued to be strongly supported by a majority of Americans was the military.
When taking the oath of enlistment or office for the military, all service men and women swear they will “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” This oath is important at a time when many democrats and republicans often view each other as the enemy, rather than focusing on true threats to our national security.
Moreover, as anyone who is a veteran or has worked with a veteran knows, this oath does not end when one’s period of service ends. To the contrary, those who’ve served our country often possess a number of positive attributes above their civilian comrades, such as increased aptitude for teamwork, the ability to perform in stressful situations and conducting themselves with the utmost professionalism and respect.
Therefore, it seems logical that, if we want to fix Congress’ dysfunction, we should absolutely seek to infuse it with more members who’ve served in the military.
At the beginning of the 115th Congress, there were only 102 members (18.8 percent of total membership) who had served or were currently serving in the military. By contrast, between 1965 and 1975, over 70 percent of each legislative chamber had served in the military, peaking at 81 percent in 1975 for the Senate. It is important to note that, in 1975, Congress’ approval rating peaked as well, with 84 percent of Americans strongly approving of the job Congress was doing.
In other words, there appears to be a direct correlation between the number of veterans in Congress and Congress’ ability to function effectively and constructively.
According to Marine veteran and With Honor co-founder Rye Barcott, “Americans overwhelmingly want leaders who will put their country before party. These younger, next-generation veterans each bring a unique and diverse range of experiences, but what binds them together is their demonstrated commitment to putting public interest over self-interest.”
So, instead of just thanking veterans for their service, let’s encourage them to continue their service, by electing more of them to Congress.
Rory E. Riley-Topping served as a litigation staff attorney for the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP), where she represented veterans and their survivors before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. She also served as the staff director and counsel for the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs for former Chairman Jeff MillerJefferson (Jeff) Bingham MillerCongress should explore extending certain VA benefits to Afghan allies Don't blame veterans for Afghanistan withdrawal, and don't forget about them VA's decision on transgender veterans is a step in the right direction MORE (R-Fla.). You can find her on Twitter: @RileyTopping.