With his first term in Congress winding down, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., is calling for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to change its mission statement so as to be more inclusive.
Mast, an Army veteran who lost both his legs when serving in Afghanistan, teamed up with U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-NY, to unveil the proposal last week. U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, is championing the proposal in the Senate.
Currently the VA uses a quote from President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.” Mast and Rice want to change the mission statement to: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those ‘who shall have borne the battle’ and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.”
“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,” Mast said when he unveiled the proposal last week. “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.”
“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,” Rice said. “But unfortunately, the Department of Veterans Affairs mission statement simply does not reflect that 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 and anything less is unacceptable.”
Mast and Rice noted that almost 350,000 women in the Armed Force have deployed since 9/11.
“The tone of every organization is set at the top. With its motto, the US Department of Veterans Affairs is telling women veterans and survivors of fallen women service members that they aren’t seen. That they don’t matter,” Allison Jaslow, an Iraq War veteran and the former executive director of IAVA, said. “Modernizing the VA’s motto isn’t a matter of political correctness, but respect for the over 2 million women veterans in America today. It’s time for the VA to follow the likes of West Point and the Air Force Academy by updating its language to be more inclusive of those it serves.”
“A long overdue motto change would recognize and support women veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors on the biggest level possible,” Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff said. “This new legislation retains the heart of Lincoln’s historic statement while placing the outdated statement in the history books. IAVA profoundly appreciates the leadership of Sen. Gillibrand, Rep. Rice and Rep. Mast, and we call on Congress to immediately act to make this historic change into law.”
Kevin Derby can be reached at Kevin.Derby@floridadaily.com.