Two New York lawmakers will propose legislation that would alter the Department of Veterans Affairs' mission statement to be more inclusive and recognize women veterans.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice will introduce a bill next week to change the VA's motto. The current mission statement is, "To fulfill President (Abraham) Lincoln's promise 'To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan' by serving and honoring the men and women who are America's veterans."
The VA's mission statement has been in place since 1959 and uses a quote from Lincoln's second inaugural address in 1865. Lincoln's quotation appears on a plaque outside the agency's headquarters in Washington.
But Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rice, D-Garden City, contend the existing statement doesn't recognize women who have served in the military, including more than 345,000 women who have been deployed since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Their bill would revise 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."
"Women have served in our military and given their lives to defend our nation since the founding of the country, and that includes the thousands of women who have made the brave and selfless decision to serve in our armed forces around the world today," said Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "It's time for the VA's motto to formally reflect that fact."
Rice, who serves on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, added: "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. As we prepare to observe Veterans Day, 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."
The legislation would require the Veterans Affairs secretary to publish a notification on the agency's website within 30 days of the bill's enactment explaining why the mission statement was changed and provide guidance for updating references to the motto.
After a six-month period, the Veterans Affairs secretary would be required to report to Congress on the agency's compliance with the new mission statement.
It's the second attempt this year to change the VA's motto. Rice authored an amendment to an appropriations bill that would've changed the mission statement. House Republican leaders, her office said, refused to allow a vote on the amendment.
Allison Jaslow, an Iraq war veteran and former executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said changing the mission statement isn't about "political correctness." She noted that other military institutions, such as the Air Force Academy and West Point, have revised language to be more inclusive.
"The tone of every organization is set at the top," she said. "With its motto, the U.S. 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."