Forty years ago, military veterans made up roughly three-quarters of Congress. By 2017, the proportion had dwindled to fewer than 1 in 5. The number of veterans on Capitol Hill will dip slightly again next year, because of retirements — but the elections of 2018 were nonetheless a turning point of sorts. At least 170 veterans received major-party nominations for national office, and at least 75 won office. (The figures are estimates: There's no official tally.) Of these, at least 18 are new to Congress — the most in nearly a decade.
Americans should care about this.
Until an age of peace and harmony dawns — little sign of this yet — Congress needs the perspective and experience of former service members, particularly those who've served in the post-9/11 era. A shared background in the armed forces might help check the excessive partisanship that hobbles America's system of government. And with polls showing Congress to be deeply unpopular, an influx of members from the institution Americans continue to respect the most certainly can't hurt.
So it's good news that increasing numbers of the 3.3 million veterans who joined up after the Sept. 11 attacks are opting to take on "second service" in politics. Good, too, that the tally of female veterans is going up. Also worth noting: More than one-third of the veterans elected were Democrats, and they played a key role in flipping the House.
Maybe the new influx can give veterans' issues a bit more of the attention they deserve. For instance, health records at the Department of Veterans Affairs need to be more quickly brought into the digital age — an era that has, in fact, arrived, though not everywhere. Improving insurance coverage for reproductive health care and reforming the veterans' disability system would be welcome, too. While campaigning, many of the veterans promised to improve the services' methods for dealing with sexual assaults. That's overdue.
Beyond veterans' particular interests, former service members would carry extra weight in pushing for a new legal authorization for America's sprawling conflicts against terrorism. The existing 2001 measure is badly out-of-date.
Veterans in larger numbers can't fix what ails the country — but one expects that, as a group, they'll bring discipline, duty and a commitment to country before politics. Congress has been lacking in those traits lately.
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