WASHINGTON —Nine veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will serve in next year's freshman class in the House of Representatives.
Veterans groups say the influx is welcome because it comes at a time when the overall number of veterans in Congress is on a steep and steady decline. In the mid-1970s, the vast majority of lawmakers were veterans.
For example, the 95th Congress, which served in 1977-78, had more than 400 veterans among its 535 members, according to the American Legion. The number of veterans next year in Congress will come to just more than 100. Most served during the Vietnam War era. In all, 16 served in Iraq or Afghanistan, not all in a combat role.
"We're losing about a half a million veterans a year in this country," said Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America. "We are not going to be in a world where a significant plurality of people spent some time in the military, so to have 16 men and women who fought in this current Congress is incredibly significant."
Tarantino said he recognizes that the 16 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have wide-ranging political views. But he said their shared experiences make it more likely they will put political differences aside on issues such as high unemployment and suicide rates among returning veterans or in ensuring that veterans get a quality education through the post-Sept. 11 GI bill.
The newcomers include Democrats Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. Gabbard said she hopes the two of them can be a voice for female veterans and the unique challenges they face.
About 8 percent of veterans are women. They tend to be younger on average.
Seven Republican newcomers served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Most had backing from tea party supporters who share their views that the size and scope of the federal government should be curtailed. They are Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan, Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, Doug Collins of Georgia, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ron DeSantis of Florida, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Brad Wenstrup of Ohio.