San Diego Union Tribune

November 10, 2004

Fewer military vets among ranks of new members of Congress

By Otto Kreisher

WASHINGTON – With the nation at war, the next House and Senate will have fewer military veterans than the current Congress to deal with the pressing issues of national security and veterans affairs.

Only nine of the 50 new senators and representatives who will take their seats in January have had any military experience, compared with 22 veterans among the departing lawmakers. That continuing decline will mean barely one-fourth of the lawmakers will be veterans.

With the retirement of Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., and Reps. Cass Ballenger, R-N.C., and Amo Houghton, R-N.Y., only nine of the once-dominant "Greatest Generation" veterans will remain in the Congress.

The organizations that work for congressional passage of defense and veterans programs, however, say the declining numbers of lawmakers who have served in the armed forces does not necessarily mean a decrease in support for those issues. But, they said, it can make their jobs more difficult.

"Having military experience is beneficial, but it's not a prerequisite for supporting our armed forces and military veterans," said Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Steve Strobridge, the director of government relations for the Military Officers of America, said there is "a little bit of a misperception" about the military experience issue.

"People worry that a decline in military veterans will somehow translate into a decline in support. That's not the case," Strobridge said.

Davis noted that with the end of the military draft and creation of the "all-volunteer force" in 1973, "society in general will see a diminishing percentage of military veterans in the total population. It's going to be the same in our Congress."

The VFW and the Military Officers Association are part of the Military Coalition, an umbrella organization of veterans and national security support groups that often work together to influence the administration and Congress on issues of concern to their members.

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