WASHINGTON — Officials at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America are hoping that Veterans Affairs leaders will change the department’s “sexist motto” in time for this year’s Veterans Day celebrations.
But so far, VA administrators have shown no interest in new wording.
At issue is the nearly 60-year-old motto used on VA paraphernalia, on websites and even on the side of the department’s headquarters in Washington. It states VA’s responsibility “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”
The quote comes from former President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, as part of his plan for reuniting and healing the country after the Civil War.
But IAVA officials say the 152-year-old remarks haven’t aged well.
“The VA’s motto is outdated,” IAVA Executive Director Allison Jaslow wrote in a letter to VA Secretary Shulkin this week. “By excluding women, it effectively erases the contributions by women in the military, and communicates to women veterans that they are unwelcome outsiders.”
IAVA officials have been pushing for a change since the spring, but have yet to make any progress with department leadership. Jaslow, an Iraq War veteran, said updating the language “would mark a powerful commitment from VA leadership to create a culture that acknowledges and respects the service and commitment of women veterans.”
But that change seems unlikely.
In response to the letter, VA spokesman Curt Cashour said the department “has the utmost respect for the service and sacrifice of all veterans, including women veterans. But Lincoln’s words are Lincoln’s words.”
More than 345,000 women service members have deployed overseas since 2001. In a recent IAVA membership survey, less than a third of the women polled said they believe the civilian public treats women veterans with respect, and more than half of women (and 40 percent of male members) supported the motto change.
IAVA officials say there’s precedent for changing the motto to more inclusionary words.
In 2003, the Air Force Academy dumped its well-known “Bring Me Men” slogan in favor of “Integrity First. Service Before Self. Excellence In All We Do.” A year later, the Naval Academy revised the lyrics of its fight song to drop male-only references. Last year, the Marine Corps updated 19 military job titles to drop the term “man” from posts that could also be held by women.
“It is past time that the Department of Veterans Affairs give due respect to women, as much of the military has done,” the letter stated. “The VA’s continued use of its sexist motto symbolizes the agency’s resistance to gender equity, and perpetuates a hostile and unequal environment for women veterans.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.