Veterans Clinic Petitions for More Inclusive VA Motto

The Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School represented the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), and the New York City Veterans Alliance in delivering a petition for rulemaking requesting that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) replace its current outdated and exclusionary motto with one that is inclusive of women.

The current motto of the VA is “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.” The petition asks the VA to create a new rule through “notice and comment” that officially updates the motto to be more inclusive. While not guaranteeing change, it does require that the Administration and the VA take an official position and let the country know where they stand when it comes to standing up for all veterans.

“The current VA motto is gendered and exclusionary, relegating women veterans to the fringes of veteran communities,” the petition says. “Many of the systemic issues confronting women veterans – inadequate healthcare facilities, mental illness, suicide — relate to a VA culture that does not adequately acknowledge their service and sacrifice,” the clinic said in their announcement.

IAVA, backed by leading allied veterans and military organizations, has repeatedly called on the Secretary and the VA to modernize the motto. IAVA met with both the former and current VA Secretaries and the current Deputy Secretary, to discuss the need for the change as a meaningful step toward gender equality.

“The time to act is now” said Paul Rieckhoff, Founder and CEO for IAVA. “The unveiling of the Women Serve monument at Calverton National Cemetery is an important time to recognize and support women veterans. A long overdue motto change would do the same on the biggest level possible. By finally making this change, President Trump and VA leadership can mark a powerful commitment to creating a culture that acknowledges and respects the service and sacrifices of women veterans.”

“Women veterans must feel fully welcome at all VA facilities, and that their military service is fully equal to their male counterparts,” said Kristen L. Rouse, an Army veteran and Founding Director of the NYC Veterans Alliance which joined IAVA on the petition. “Too many women veterans seek VA healthcare only as a last resort — or not at all — because they’ve felt harassed, discriminated against, or that their military service was questioned at the VA — while signage on the wall clearly states that the VA is intended only for ‘he who has borne the battle’ instead of all veterans who have served and sacrificed for our nation. It is past time for the VA to ensure its central message is to care for all those who have borne the battle.”

Senator Richard Blumenthal ’73 of Connecticut added, “I fully support this petition to amend the VA’s outdated motto to honor and recognize the 2 million women veterans who have served and sacrificed for our country. I have raised this issue personally with VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, as part of substantive and systemic reforms required to effectively serve women veterans. Updating this motto is about more than words — it is about signaling a commitment to meet the unique needs of our brave women veterans.”

The petition states that over 345,000 women have deployed since 9/11. While the number of male veterans is expected to decline in the next decades, the population of female veterans will increase.

“Women continue to take on new roles and responsibilities throughout the services,” the clinic said. “Yet, their service and sacrifice is often overlooked, to their peril. For example, new suicide numbers released last month by the Department of Veterans Affairs showed that in 2016, the suicide rate for women vets was 1.8 higher than for civilians.”

“Not only do women veterans encounter barriers to care and benefits, they do so in a culture that often does not accept them or fully recognize them as veterans. They also face stunningly high rates of sexual assault,” the clinic’s announcement said.

The Veterans Legal Services Clinic was founded in 2010 to train law students and to serve the legal needs of veterans. Under the supervision of clinical professors, clinic students engage in litigation before administrative agencies and courts on a range of matters.