- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2023

The Department of Veterans Affairs is altering an Abraham Lincoln quote in its decades-old motto to make a more gender-inclusive mission statement after years of pressure from Democrats and veterans advocates.

The VA’s current motto — “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” — is taken from President Lincoln’s second inaugural address and has been in use since 1959.

The new motto, which drops the male-only language, reads: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.”

The VA and its officials say the updated motto is more welcoming to women and provides proper respect to the more than 600,000 female veterans whom the agency serves, the fastest-growing cohort of veterans.

“Whenever any veteran, family member, caregiver or survivor walks by a VA facility, we want them to see themselves in the mission statement on the outside of the building,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said. “We are here to serve all veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors — and now, our mission statement reflects exactly that.”

The change was made after years of lobbying by Democratic lawmakers and veterans advocates, in addition to VA interviews with 30,000 veterans in recent years.

“Words are powerful tools, and any veteran, family member, caregiver, or survivor visiting a VA health care facility or sacred resting place in a cemetery should know that VA is, and will always be, a place for them, that all veterans’ service is valued and recognized, and that this nation will always be grateful to them, and those they leave behind,” said Rep. Mark Takano of California, the top Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, Montana Democrat, lauded what he called an “important step to make the department more inclusive for all veterans.”

The current motto is posted in roughly half of VA’s facilities, according to the agency. The signs will be replaced in the coming months with the new mission statement at an undisclosed cost to taxpayers.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is among those that have lobbied the VA, but repeated requests were rebuffed under the Trump administration in the face of pushback that altering the motto would be an attack on history and Lincoln’s legacy.

“Calling for a change to the VA’s motto was also always about more than words,” Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America CEO Allison Jaslow said. “It was about the need for culture change at the VA and setting the right tone from the top. We must be relentless until the culture at the VA makes every veteran, and their loved ones, feel like they’re supported fully.”

Republicans have been largely mute on the decision, but the mission statement change has prompted some criticism from conservative figures and groups.

Tea Party Patriots, a conservative political activist and fundraising organization, labeled the change as “insane.”

“Joe Biden’s administration is so committed to wokeness that the VA dropped an Abraham Lincoln quote as its motto because it doesn’t include women,” the group said.

• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at rtouchberry@washingtontimes.com.

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