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House panel advances bill to change VA’s motto to be gender-inclusive

The Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in Washington, D.C.

STARS AND STRIPES

By STEVE BEYNON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 30, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs could be mandated to change its motto that lawmakers and veterans advocates have blasted as outdated and excludes women.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee on Thursday passed the Honoring All Veterans Act, which would change the VA's motto. It would 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 comprise the fastest-growing demographic of both the military and veteran populations,” said Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., the top Republican on the committee. “Women now are going to be 20% of the military, and I want to honor everyone.”

That original motto quotes President Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address in 1865: "To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan."

The measure, introduced by Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., moves to the House floor for a vote.

The VA opposes changing the motto it has used since 1959.

“The VA and those of us who work for the VA understand our mission is very broad,” said Maria Llorente, an assistant deputy undersecretary of the VA. “It’s an inclusive mission. At this point, however, the VA’s position is we don’t see a need to enact a new motto.”

Calls to make the motto gender-neutral started two years ago and have recently intensified after VA Secretary Robert Wilkie announced in May that he planned to install bronze plaques inscribed with the motto at all of the agency’s 142 veterans cemeteries.

“The VA’s current, exclusionary motto is a great disservice to the women and LGBTQ Americans who have bravely fought to defend our nation,” Rice said in a statement. “Secretary Wilkie and the VA have argued that updating the motto would be too costly, yet they seem to have no issue dedicating funding for the construction of new bronze displays of the current motto. The VA should scrap this plan and finally change its outdated motto so every American military hero is properly honored and recognized for their service.”

Beynon.Steven@Stripes.com
Twitter: @StevenBeynon

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