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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Dwindling Ranks of Veterans

At Pew, Drew DeSilver writes that veterans make up a declining share of Congress and the country as a whole.
Twenty senators (20%) and 89 representatives (20.5%) are veterans, according to the authoritative Vital Statistics on Congress, published by The Brookings Institution. Among the Senate’s notable veterans: Republicans John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), both strong supporters of taking action against Syria; Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin and Kansas Republican Pat Roberts, both of whom have expressed skepticism or outright opposition; and Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey, who voted “present” on the Syria resolution Wednesday.
Not all that long ago, military service was practically a requirement for serving in Congress. The high point in recent decades was the 95th Congress (1977-78) when, following an influx of Vietnam-era veterans, a combined 77% of the House and Senate had served in the armed forces. But as World War II veterans have retired and relatively few Americans enlist in the all-volunteer armed forces, veterans account for a smaller and smaller share of Congress.
That reflects the wider trend in U.S. society. According to Census figures, veterans currently make up about 7% of the overall population, down from 13.7% in 1970 — when the Vietnam War was raging and the draft was still in place. As a 2011 Pew Research Center report noted, the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been fought by a historically small U.S. military; this has contributed to a distance between the military and civilian society. While Americans overwhelmingly say they feel proud of those who’ve served and appreciate their sacrifices, 71% say most Americans know little or nothing about the problems faced by military personnel; about as many (74%) oppose reinstating a draft.
As noted earlier , the 2012 election marked the first time since 1932 that neither party nominated a veteran for either president or vice president.