The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) is putting pressure on the Department of Veterans Affairs to change its motto to be more inclusive, most importantly of female vets.
The current motto is a quote from Abraham Lincoln and is taken from his Second Inaugural Address in 1865, and has been the VA motto for 59 years. The motto reads “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan” and is prominently displayed at hospitals and care locations all across the US.
Allison Jaslow, the Executive Director of IAVA, claims that her call for a change in the motto have only been ignored by the VA Secretary David Shulkin, whose spokesman says will remain “unchanged”, and that the “VA is proud of Lincoln’s words as a historic tribute to all Veterans, including women Veterans, whose service and sacrifice inspires us all”.
Jaslow claims that the motto is exclusionary of women and fosters a culture that simply doesn’t honor their service. The debate that has come about over the issue is over whether changing a motto is a priority point when the VA has so many major issues that need to be tackled, such as long appointment waits and the numerous scandals that have surfaced over the past few years.
The issue, however, is being presented as representative of the way that women soldiers are treated by the system. The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine conducted a four and half year study of the VA’s mental health services wherein many women who were interviewed said that their combat experiences were often not heard or downplayed by VA medical professionals.
Gender issues have become apparent wherein some women say that they experience derogatory expressions from male veterans while at the facilities, including catcalls, which can be especially distressing for female veterans who have been sexually traumatized while in the service, according to a report conducted by Starts and Stripes, and that this is just part of a culture that is present in the system which Jaslow says needs to change.
Jaslow has pointed out to Shulkin, the VA Secretary, in a letter last October that other military institutions have changed their mottos in ways that are more inclusive. The Air Force Academy changed its motto from “Bring Me Men” to “Integrity First. Service Before Self. Excellence In All We Do” in 2003.
Jaslow wrote “After conducting an investigation into the culture of sexual assault and hostility towards women at the Academy, the Air Force concluded that removing and replacing the ‘Bring Me Men Sign’ was an urgent and essential step in making the Academy more supportive of its women cadets”. The U.S. Military Academy also changed its male-focused song lyrics when they simply weren’t particularly applicable for female graduates who died in combat.