Our country’s veterans are more diverse than ever. Americans of all genders, sexual orientations and ethnic backgrounds have served the nation’s military with pride. Now, the House of Representatives has voted to make the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) even more inclusive.
The motto that the VA has used for decades comes from an Abraham Lincoln quote. But it specifically refers to male soldiers with female spouses. On VA buildings and in press materials, the department has featured the following motto:
To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.
While the motto is an honorable one, critics say it leaves out the women and non-heterosexual soldiers who have dedicated their service to the United States military.
To make the change, the House Veterans Affairs Committee voted unanimously to adjust the motto this week. The new inscription will read:
To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those ‘who shall have borne the battle’ and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.
“Women and LGBTQ military service members have served and sacrificed for our country,” said the bill’s sponsor, New York Representative Kathleen Rice. “And they always answered the call of duty whenever we rang. Yet, as we all know, the current gender-exclusive motto doesn’t properly acknowledge their service, and that is simply wrong.”
The motion was popular, receiving bipartisan support. Sixty-eight representatives, including Phil Roe, the committee’s ranking Republican, voted in favor of the bill.
“Women comprise the fastest-growing demographic of both the military and veteran populations” Representative Roe said. “Women now are going to be 20% of the military, and I want to honor everyone.”
Still, despite current enthusiasm for the change, it has been an uphill battle to get approval. Rep. Rice introduced the motion for the past two congressional cycles, but it never passed out of committee until this week.
The VA already uses the newer, gender-neutral motto during official ceremonies and in correspondences. Additionally, it has already moved forward with plans to install plaques with the updated motto at VA cemeteries. But this week’s vote makes the motto official, permanently retiring the old, male-centric slogan.