A record number of women service members and veterans — four in total — are serving in the House of Representatives.
Even that small number is a sign of a changing US military, as more and more women are now serving in the US armed forces, national guard, and reserves. Which is why these four women veteran representatives just founded their own House caucus.
The Servicewomen and Women Veterans Congressional Caucus, which officially launched Wednesday at a press conference outside the Capitol, is the first caucus dedicated to the issues that women service members and veterans face.
Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA), an Air Force veteran elected in 2018, will chair the caucus. Her fellow female veterans and co-founders, Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Elaine Luria (D-VA), and Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) will serve as vice chairs.
Houlahan told me Wednesday that her staff alerted her to the fact that, after the 2018 election — which saw a historic number of women elected — the number of female veterans doubled. While you’re still able to count them on one hand, she said, it was “a realization that we needed to do something with our doubling in size.”
In total, about 50 House members have joined the bipartisan caucus to support the goals of the group. “We four women will lead from our lived experiences serving this country and are flanked by men and women, Republicans and Democrats,” Houlahan said during the press conference on Wednesday. “We have a mission to serve the women who are and have served this country.”
The caucus will work to shape and influence policies for those women serving or who have served. That includes everything from medical care and treatment for women, improved access to child care, finding ways to help women advance in the military, and uniform and equipment issues. The caucus will also tackle issues around sexual assault in the military. A recent Pentagon survey showed that there was a spike in assaults against female service members in 2018.
Houlahan, during the press conference, brought up her own struggles with finding child care in the military, which ultimately derailed her service. She gave birth to her first child 27 years ago, when she was a lieutenant in the Air Force. The on-base child care had a six-month waiting list; the cost of private child care was too high.
“There I was with a new baby, a mission dealing with ballistic missile, no viable options for childcare and working within a system that had not caught up,” Houlahan said during the press conference. “So I decided to separate from the Air Force.”
Gabbard, a Democratic presidential candidate and member of Hawaii’s national guard who deployed to Iraq and later Kuwait, said during the press conference that women now represent about 16 percent of enlisted forces and 18 percent of the office corps, with more serving in the National Guard and reserves. That share is expected to only increase.
Even so, the voices of women in the military are not always heard, or accurately represented, Gabbard said. To remedy that, this caucus will “look at the complete arc of the experience of women who serve,” in their recruitment, training, time in the service, and, finally, as veterans.