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Report: New Congress to have fewest vets since at least WWII

The U.S. Capitol building. (Bill Clark/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom/Zuma Press/TNS)
December 03, 2020

The number of U.S. military veterans serving in Congress is set to drop to the lowest level since at least World War II with the incoming Congress, according to a report by Military Times.

91 lawmakers with a U.S. military service record will be serving in either the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate at the start of the newest session of Congress in January. According to congressional records obtained by Military Times, it is the lowest number of veterans in office since at least World War II. Military Times noted congressional records from before World War II are incomplete and thus do not provide an accurate count of veterans in Congress from before World War II.

At the start of 93rd Congress in 1973, 390 U.S. lawmakers or about 73 percent of Congress had some type of military service in their backgrounds. The number of veteran lawmakers has continually declined since then.

In 1993, 236 lawmakers were veterans. In 2001, 168 lawmakers were veterans. In 2011, 118 lawmakers were veterans.

The Veterans Campaign — a non-partisan organization that seeks to encourage and train veterans to run for public office — told Military Times that much of the decline in the number of veterans in Congress correlates to changes in demographics, more so than a direct public rejection of veteran candidates. The number of veterans in America, as a percentage of the U.S. population, has been on the decline since the Vietnam War era and the end of the military draft. Veterans account for about seven percent of the U.S. population.

The 91 veteran lawmakers slated to serve in the next session of Congress amounts to about 17 percent of the 535 seats in the House and Senate.

16 of the newly elected members of Congress in the 2020 election are veterans, including two senators and 14 House members.

The new number of veteran lawmakers does not replace the number of veteran lawmakers who retired or lost their reelections in recent years.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) is an Army National Guard soldier who chose not to run again for office. Air Force veteran Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) lost her run for office to Democrat Mark Kelly, who is a Navy veteran. Last week Army veteran and Republican Michigan Senate candidate John James conceded to Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) who is a Navy veteran.

Female veterans reportedly won the highest ever number of primary contests heading into the 2020 general election, but the number of female veterans who will be in Congress next year is only six, or a decrease of one seat since the 116th Congress, which began in January of 2019. That number could be subject to change as the only new veteran congresswoman elected in the 2020 election was Iowa Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks. Iowa certified her win by six votes this week, but the contest could still face legal challenges in the coming weeks before new members of Congress are sworn in and seated on January 3rd.

The number of veterans in Congress could move back up. Among lawmakers aged 45 or younger, 21 lawmakers or about 27 percent of the demographic have served in the military, whereas the number of veterans among older lawmakers is lower.

Seth Lynn, the founder of the Veterans Campaign said, “Until very recently, it was among the elder statesmen in Congress that you would find the most military veterans. Today it’s the opposite.”