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

The Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — The House passed bipartisan legislation Tuesday to change the Department of Veterans Affairs motto to be more inclusive of women who served.

The VA motto, which has been the same for 61 years, is a quote from 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 Honoring All Veterans Act would change the motto to read, “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those ‘who shall have borne the battle’ and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.”

The House approved the bill Tuesday without objection. It was sponsored by Reps. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., and Brian Mast, R-Fla., and gained the support of Republican members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., the ranking Republican on the committee, said the legislation would ensure “the brave service of all veterans, men and women alike, is rightfully honored by VA’s mission statement.”

Some female veterans and advocates, such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, have pushed for a gender-neutral version of the motto since 2017. The VA initially rejected the proposal. More recently, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has sought new ways to engrain the motto within the department.

Wilkie announced in May his intent to install plaques inscribed with the VA motto, using male-only pronouns, in 145 cemeteries nationwide. The first plaques were installed this summer.

In August, Wilkie dedicated the plaque installed at the Camp Butler National Cemetery in Springfield, Ill., the town where Lincoln lived before becoming president.

“Today’s VA welcomes all veterans, including the 10% of all veterans who are women. The words that brought us here should not to be diluted, parsed or canceled,” Wilkie said at the dedication. “The words that brought us here ought to be preserved as they were spoken and displayed so every generation understands the origin of America’s progress in becoming the most tolerant nation on earth.”

The bill moves on to the Senate, which must approve the measure before it can be sent to the White House. It’s uncertain whether the Senate will consider the legislation.

Also on Tuesday, the House approved five other bills regarding veterans, one of which would prohibit the VA from collecting copayments from any veteran who is a member of a Native American tribe. Another measure would standardize treatment options for veterans diagnosed with prostate cancer and would allow them more access to clinical trials. Twitter: @nikkiwentling

author picture
Nikki Wentling has worked for Stars and Stripes since 2016. She reports from Congress, the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs and throughout the country about issues affecting veterans, service members and their families. Wentling, a graduate of the University of Kansas, previously worked at the Lawrence Journal-World and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans awarded Stars and Stripes the Meritorious Service Award in 2020 for Wentling’s reporting on homeless veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, she was named by the nonprofit HillVets as one of the 100 most influential people in regard to veterans policymaking.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now