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Congress Short on Military Experience
Richmond Times - Dispatch   |  February 06, 2007
As Congress debates the war in Iraq, the Senate and House are short on military experience.

Only 29 of 100 senators and 23 percent of House members today have worn a uniform -- the lowest percentages since World War II, a review by Media General News Service found. Both of Virginia's senators are veterans, as are four of its 11 representatives.

Several who follow Congress say the lack of military experience is unlikely to sway the debate over President Bush's new war strategy. But it does affect oversight and legislation on other military matters that fail to make the front page but have huge impacts on readiness and the armed forces' future.

The war debate "is so public, frankly it will have little effect," said national security analyst Jeff McCausland. "Congressmen and senators are being inundated by their constituents who, one way or the other, have very strong feelings" about the war.

"My concern is in the nuance military issues -- veterans' benefits, military construction costs, the backlog in rebuilding [damaged] equipment -- issues that aren't sexy," said McCausland, director of national security affairs at Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney, a Washington law firm.

Only 130 of the 535 senators and representatives in the recently seated 110th Congress served on active duty or in the reserves of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard.

It's the lowest number since World War II, when 196 veterans served on the Hill in 1945.

The ranks of veterans in the House peaked at 317 in 1973. The Senate had 78 in 1977.

Since then, the roll call of veterans has become much shorter. Public discontent over the Vietnam War, plus elimination of the draft, meant fewer people entered the armed forces.

Since 9/11, Congress has been dealing with the gamut of military issues -- from funding equipment and more troops to boosting pay and benefits.

Organizations representing veterans and military personnel said they spend more time lobbying nonveterans -- both politicians and staff members -- than those who served. "The impact to us is we have to educate them on veterans' issues," said David Greineder, deputy national legislative director for AMVETS.

The lack of veterans in Congress has resulted in an insensitivity to the burdens placed on troops and their families by the war and frequent deployments, said Steve Strobridge, director of government relations for Military Officers Association of America.

"One percent of the population is bearing 100 percent of the burden of the war," he said.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may fuel a resurgence of the veteran ranks in politics.

"With the war dominating politics, I think there will be more veterans running as candidates" in 2008, said Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project.

VIRGINIA VETERANS

Senators

John W. Warner, Republican, Navy (World War II), Marine Corps (Korean War), Marine Corps Reserves

Jim Webb, Democrat, Marine Corps (Vietnam War)

Representatives

Thomas M. Davis III, R-11th, Army and Army Reserve (Vietnam )

Virgil H. Goode Jr., R-5th, National Guard (Vietnam)

Robert C. Scott, D-3rd, Army Reserve (Vietnam), National Guard

Frank R. Wolf, R-10th, Army, Army Reserve (Vietnam)

SOURCES: Military Officers Association of America, congressional research

INSIGHT

After world War II ended, a candidate's veteran status became a campaign issue in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Veterans' ranks on Capitol Hill peaked in the 1970s.

MILITARY AND THE CAPITOL

From World War II through the mid-1970s, military veterans became a larger presence in Congress, reaching 73 percent in 1973-74. Today, only 24 percent of the 535 members are veterans.

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