WASHINGTON — Congresswomen with military service in their past, some of them forged on post-Sept. 11 wars, are hoping to create their own caucus to drive an agenda to support the nation's growing ranks of female service members.
Such a caucus — bipartisan and including men — would be a first, too. There are more than a dozen military and veteran-related caucuses in the House, but none dedicated to the specific needs of women who serve. The still-forming Congressional Servicewomen & Women Veterans Caucus is part of this group's growing network of influence in national politics that includes efforts to recruit more female veterans to Congress.
"It's a long time coming," said Rep. Chrissy Houlahan , D-Pa., an Air Force veteran and third-generation service member who is also among the historic class of House freshmen that delivered a Democratic majority in last year's elections. She recalls leaving the military in 1991 after she and her husband had a baby because she could not afford child care in Boston, the city where they were living. "What I've learned nearly 30 years later is that it hasn't changed."
But child care isn't the only concern of the group, which Houlahan hopes will eventually include senators who have served. Educating women on the veterans' health care and other services that are available to them also is on the agenda, as well as delivering and expanding on those services.
So is urgency: In the next 25 years, female former service members are expected to nearly double their population and will account for nearly 1 in 5 living veterans. That's because the number of enlisted women serving is eight times more than it was when the draft ended, in 1973, according to statistics released from Houlahan's group. Women now account for 18 percent of the officer corps, up from 8 percent.
Female veterans face different health-related challenges compared to their male counterparts, according to letters the future caucus members have sent to Army Secretary Mark T. Esper and Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer. The caucus wants all the services to follow the model of an Air Force pilot program that offers four hours of training on the health services offered by the VA to women leaving the military.
Joining Houlahan for a news conference Wednesday are Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii; Elaine Luria, D-Va.; Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J.; Don Bacon, R-Neb.; and Gil Cisneros, D-Calif.
Houlahan, Luria, Sherrill and Reps. Abagail Spanberger, D-Va., and Elissa Slotkin of Michigan were part of a record number of female veterans with military or intelligence experience who ran for Congress last year. They're raising money together for potential candidates in 2020 with military experience through Service First Women's Victory Fund and New Politics, a bipartisan organization.