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Steep Drop in Veterans Serving in Congress

Wednesday, 09 Jul 2014 12:58 PM

By Melanie Batley

The percentage of veterans serving as congressional lawmakers has fallen to just 20 percent, a steady decrease since World War II, and a dramatic decline from over 70 percent in the 1970s, Politico reported.

The figures are expected to dip even lower following November's midterm elections as the number of veterans that have won their party's nominations has fallen strikingly compared to the 2012 election cycle, according to figures from the Veterans Campaign.

"The numbers are down significantly," Seth Lynn, executive director of the Veterans Campaign, told Politico. "I think there was a pretty big push before, when the wars were a bigger issue in elections, to have veterans running, especially among Democrats. … And that may not be as big of a deal anymore."

Politico noted, however, that the decline largely reflects a broader historical context: much larger percentages of the American population served in wars in previous eras when a draft was in effect.

Another explanation is that the increasing power of big money in politics has put veterans, most of whom do not have personal fortunes, at a disadvantage.

Veterans groups and military advocates have become increasingly concerned that the decline of former soldiers in public service could diminish the importance of veterans' issues on the political agenda, including healthcare priorities and budget allocations.

But others say military experience is not a pre-requisite for being a champion of the armed services and veterans affairs.

"Having military experience is by no means a requirement and necessity, but I think it's a benefit," South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, a lawyer in the Air Force Reserves, told Politico.

The 113th Congress looks set to be the last session with any WWII veterans serving, given the death of New Jersey Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg last year, the retirement of Michigan Democratic Rep. John Dingell, and the primary defeat of Texas GOP Rep. Ralph Hall.

More of the new veterans running for office during this cycle served in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they do not make-up for the number of departures of older veterans, according to Politico.

According to figures provided by Lynn, over the last ten years, about 190 to 200 veterans have secured nominations in congressional races each election cycle. By comparison, this year about 105 veterans won nominations in the states that held primaries through June, a decrease from 135 in the same states in the 2012 cycle.

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