The total number of military veterans in Congress is expected to fall next year, according to the Military Times. Currently, 102 former service members serve in the House of Representatives and Senate, representing a mere 18 percent of the legislature, the Congressional Research Service Found. Experts say this number will decrease over the course of 2017 as older veterans who served in the conflicts Korea and Vietnam retire from their posts.
"So it's natural to see the numbers drop," Seth Lynn, executive director of Veterans Campaign, a nonprofit organization that tracks former service members who are elected to public office, told the publication. "I feel like this is getting to the lower level we're going to see for quite a while."
Number of veterans declines
This is, of course, the product of a larger national trend. Fewer Americans join in the armed services every year, The Atlantic reported. Approximately 2.5 million citizens served in Afghanistan and Iraq, accounting for less than 1 percent of the total population. In fact, last year, more young people studied abroad than visited their local recruitment office. This has whittled down the size of the American fighting force to the smallest it has been in over 75 years. Although sophisticated combat technologies and changes in warfare have made large standing armies a thing of the past, people are still essential.
Legislative bodies have experienced something similar. Between 1965 and 1990, former service members filled more than 50 percent of the 535 seats in Congress, PBS News Hour reported. That number has declined significantly and now threatens to fall to an all-time low next year. This is an issue of great concern for the 21 million military veterans living in the U.S.
"Currently, 102 veterans serve in the House of Representatives and Senate, representing a mere 18 percent of the legislature."
New faces enter the fray
Still, there is hope for American veterans in risk of losing representation in the halls of power. In recent years, a number new legislators – some with military service under their belts and some without it – have risen to the fore to champion key issues affecting American veterans. In recent years, the number of female military veterans in Congress has grown, The Washington Post reported. Currently, four women with military experience – Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Martha McSally, R- Arizona – hold seats and use their training to develop legislation, advocate for fellow service members and break boundaries.
In August, the four legislators worked to convince their male colleagues that women belonged in frontline positions and should be subject to the draft. Duckworth was especially passionate about the issue. After becoming a commissioned officer in the Illinois Army National Guard in 1992, a superior advised her to opt for a non-combat role. Duckworth declined and went on to pilot Blackhawk helicopters for the Army. She was shot down in Iraq in 2004 and lost both her legs in the crash. She retired in 2014.
"It's why I became a helicopter pilot," she told The Post. "And what I love about the military is if you can do the job, then you're part of that group – at the end of the day, it's the ultimate meritocracy."
Other veterans may soon join Duckworth and her colleagues in Congress. In September, Jason Kander, an Army National Guard veteran and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in Missouri, made news when he released a campaign ad in which he assembles a service rifle blindfolded, The New York Times reported. With some luck, Kander may refill one of the seats vacated by retiring former service members in Congress.