The 117th Congress convened last week with the lowest total of veterans since WWII. Fifteen freshman lawmakers joined the ranks of military veterans serving in Congress, bringing the current total to 91 — a decrease of five from the previous Congress, 74 of whom are serving in the House and 17 in the Senate.
In the years following the Vietnam War, nearly three of four lawmakers had served in the U.S. military. Since the transition to an all-volunteer force in the decades that followed, that number has dwindled to around 17%. Veterans and servicemembers currently make up approximately 7% of the country’s population. Of the military veterans serving in Congress, 28 are Democrats and 63 are Republicans, 50 are post-9/11 veterans and more than half have served in overseas combat deployments.
Among the most notable veterans who won congressional seats are:
• Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., who beat incumbent Republican Martha McSally in the race for the U.S. Senate. Kelly is a former Navy pilot and NASA astronaut.
• Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, is the former White House physician who won the Texas House runoff. He is a former rear admiral in the Navy and will fill the seat vacated by House Armed Services ranking member Mac Thornberry.
The 2020 races also saw a record number of women veterans running for office. However, the number of women veterans who were elected to serve in the new Congress decreased by one from the last Congress. Only six women currently serving in Congress have military experience.
Despite the dwindling number of lawmakers with military experience, this small group of veterans brings unique experience and knowledge to the halls of the U.S. Capitol. They will be looked to for both their expertise and anecdotal experiences in navigating the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Other lawmakers who lack the same experiences will look to their military veteran colleagues for their guidance and to hear their unique perspectives.