Support for Making VA Motto Gender-Neutral May Be Fading

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The Department of Veterans Affairs' motto, shown on a plaque outside the Veterans Health Administration building in Washington, D.C. (Hope Hodge Seck/Military.com)
The Department of Veterans Affairs' motto, shown on a plaque outside the Veterans Health Administration building in Washington, D.C. (Hope Hodge Seck/Military.com)

An annual membership survey from the organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) showed that less than half of surveyed members support a more gender-neutral version of the Department of Veterans Affairs' iconic motto: "To care for him care who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan."

The survey, released last week, of about 4,600 IAVA members showed that 46 percent either "strongly" or "somewhat" supported changing the motto taken from Abraham Lincoln's majestic Second Inaugural Address.

About 30 percent "strongly" or "somewhat" opposed changing the motto, while 24 percent were neutral on the issue.

In October, the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, backed by IAVA, the Service Women's Action Network, and the NYC Veterans Alliance, petitioned the VA to change the motto.

"The current VA motto is gendered and exclusionary, relegating women veterans to the fringes of veteran communities," the petition stated.

"The time to act is now," Paul Rieckhoff, founder and chief executive officer of IAVA, said in a statement when the petition was filed.

Changing the motto would make "a powerful commitment to creating a culture that acknowledges and respects the service and sacrifices of women veterans," Rieckhoff said at the time.

Reickhoff has since said he is resigning and is now listed by IAVA as “founder and outgoing CEO,” said Lindsay Rodman, IAVA communications director.

Although 46 percent in the IAVA survey supported a change, Rodman said the result still “shows substantial support for changing the motto” in the male-dominated demographic of post-9/11 veterans.

Last November, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, and Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-New York, introduced a bill that would change the motto to read: "To fulfill President Lincoln's promise 'To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan' by serving and honoring the men and women who are America's veterans."

Another replacement motto suggested by advocacy groups would read: "To care for those who shall have borne the battle and their families and survivors."

A VA spokesman has repeatedly said that the petition will be reviewed, but there are no current plans to change the motto.

Lincoln delivered his Second Inaugural on the steps of the Capitol on March 4, 1865, in the waning days of the Civil War and about a month before he was assassinated. John Wilkes Booth, his assassin, was in the audience.

Lincoln's closing words were: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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