Who’s Standing Up for Veterans in Congress?
If asked who the leader is on Veterans’ issues in Congress, most people would say Senator John McCain. The Arizona senator has been one of strongest advocates for Veterans since his election to Congress in the 1980s.
You name an important Veteran-related bill, and Senator McCain has authored, co-authored, or supported it. According to his congressional website, “…Senator McCain’s office actually works cases for any veteran who contacts us.” They note that standard policy for most congressional offices is to refer an out-of-state Veteran to their appropriate senators. But Senator McCain is such a powerful voice for the Veteran community, he seems to embrace his distinguished role as a voice for Veterans.
We don’t know when it will end, but Senator McCain cannot lead the charge for Veterans forever. His tenured service makes him irreplaceable. But if the senior senator from Arizona were to step down tomorrow, who would take his place? Senator McCain is not the only Veteran in Congress. He is joined by more than 80 former members of the American Armed Forces. Some of the names may be familiar, some of them may be complete strangers. Profiled below are congressional members and senators, Republicans and Democrats who could continue the fight as a congressional leader for the Veteran community.
Congressman Jeff Miller, R-Florida
Congressman Miller may be the most recognizable advocate for the Veteran community. His role as chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs made him an immovable voice of reason, concern, and honesty during the VA scandal. He was quoted last year in a Washington Times story saying, “Until VA leaders make a commitment to supporting real accountability—something they have refused to do thus far—efforts to reform the VA are doomed to fail…”
Miller is also a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Congressman Miller was also the author of the popular VA Accountability Act of 2015. According to the Sunshine State News, this act allowed for quicker firings of VA employees. His familiarity with the VA issues and his views on Veteran-related issues make him a natural choice to succeed Senator McCain.
Senator Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas
Senator Cotton is another likely advocate for leadership on Veterans’ issues in Congress. He is a Veteran of two combat tours in Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne. He’s a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he is also only 38 years old. His youth, military service, and senior position in Congress make him a strong contender.
Senator Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina
Senator Graham has been a longstanding voice for the Veteran community, and his own record as an Air Force Veteran and retired South Carolina Air National Guard colonel give him a great deal of experience. According to his senate website, Graham served as an Air Force lawyer and has served in the House of Representatives and United States Senate since 1994.
Congresswoman Ladda Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois
First term Congresswoman Duckworth may be one of the most interesting congressional Veterans. According to her biography, Duckworth flew Blackhawks for the Illinois Army National Guard during Operation Iraqi Freedom until her helicopter was hit by an RPG in 2004, making her a double-leg amputee and partially paralyzed in her right arm. Congresswoman Duckworth was also a former director for the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs until her election to Congress in 2014.
Her insight into the world of the VA, like that of Congressman Miller, could serve invaluable in the coming years as the VA is reformed. She even said in a 2014 Washington Post interview that she “wasn’t surprised” to learn about troubles at the VA when they were first reported several years ago. Both her military experience and success make her a powerful voice for Veterans in Congress.
These, and many of the other Veterans serving in the 114th United States Congress, represent a shrinking breed of politicians. According to PBS, 72% of the House and 78% of the Senate were Veterans in 1971. Currently only 20% of Congress has a military background.
Veterans are by no means disappearing from political life, but fewer Americans are serving in the Armed Forces. It’s safe to assume that this group of Veteran legislators will be the next generation of advocates for America’s service members. Senator McCain is still the force behind the Veterans, but we need to start thinking about who will be the next group of leaders.