Melissa Harris-Perry: Welcome to The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry, and thanks for closing out your week with us.
It's Veteran's Day Weekend. To every veteran out there listening, thank you for your service. Veteran's Day isn't just a reminder of the sacrifices that service members make. It's also a reminder that veterans are part of all of our communities. They might be our friends, our family, our coworkers, like our very own Jackie Martin. Depending on where you live, they just might be your elected representatives in Congress.
Jackie Martin: My life has been about service. I've been so blessed. It's been about service to my country as a Navy pilot, it's been about service to my family as a wife and as a mom to four, and it's been about service to my community.
Speaker: I have been privileged to fight for you on the battlefield. I've been honored to take what works best in Iowa, and now I am humbled to serve as your congressman in Washington DC.
Melissa Harris-Perry: According to The Military Times, in this year's midterm elections, 196 veterans won major party primaries and ran for the US House and Senate. As of Wednesday morning, 79 of them have won their races. While this is far fewer than even just 25 years ago, the number of service members in Congress has slowly been rising again in recent years. The 118th Congress will also include seven women veterans, the highest number yet, and that includes Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, who was reelected this week.
Tammy Duckworth: What this moment says about our state and our nation, is that a veteran who now flies around via wheelchair rather than a Black Hawk, can find a new way to serve her country long after that last combat mission.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I had a little conversation about our elected veterans with Leo Shane III, Deputy Editor of The Military Times.
Leo Shane III: This was the largest field of veteran candidates in at least a decade. That's a pretty positive sign for folks who have been watching this issue. A lot of it has to do with demographics. The number of veterans in America is decreasing. When we had the draft army pre-Vietnam and during the Vietnam War, there were just a lot more veterans in the country, a lot more folks who had served for a few years. Since we switched to the all-volunteer army, we've seen a steady decrease in the number of veterans in the country. That's been reflected in politics and in the candidates running for office.
After 20 years of war in Afghanistan and the wars in Iraq, we're starting to see an uptake again. We're starting to see folks, and this is important because these are positions in Congress that make decisions for the military. These are decisions on war and peace and priorities. There are a lot of voters out there who think it's important to have some level of investment and personal experience in these decisions.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Okay. As you talk about the difference that happens as we go from a drafted military to all-volunteer armed services, how does that affect what folks who aren't either veterans or active service families understand about what veterans are facing?
Leo Shane III: One of the primary indicators we have today of whether or not you're going to join the military is whether or not you have a family member who's in the military. The military is very much a family business. If you've got an aunt or uncle or a mother or father who served, you're just more likely to consider it as a career path or consider joining for a few years. As you said, that wasn't the case in the '60s, and in the early '70s, we did have a level of shared investment.
Now, the military will tell you that the all-volunteer army is much better trained, much more efficient, and a much better way to go, but from a social level, it does isolate some of the military experience and the military responsibilities from broader society. Again, I think that's why it plays into a lot of why veterans become attractive candidates for the major political parties, why veterans have seen success over the years when they do run in getting office because there is trust, there is an understanding that there's a different life experience one that a lot of us don't have and don't share.
If we can rely on those folks to get together and make some of these important decisions, they may just be in a better place than someone who doesn't have that background.
Melissa Harris-Perry: As of Wednesday afternoon, there are 79 vets who've won a House or a Senate seat, with a total of 92 veterans who will be serving in the 118th Congress, but they're not all Democrats, they're not all Republicans, they're not all southerners, they're not all men, they're not all women. Is there a politics of veteran identity?
Leo Shane III: Yes. As of our recording here, we did just get the 93rd veteran who's going to be in. The number will probably sneak up. I don't think we'll quite hit 100, which is a significant mark. We haven't had 100 veterans in Congress since 2017. Just for your listeners' purposes, back in 1995, which is not too far ago. We had more than 200 veterans in Congress back in the '70s, the number was over 400. We really have seen a pretty steep drop off, as you said, the veterans who've run it's mostly Republican or they're not entirely about a third of Democrats two-thirds of Republican.
There's not really a common campaign point, a common identity other than this is a resume line that they will advertise as just a point of public trust. We've seen this in poll after poll, that the military, despite some of the politics of the country seeping in despite issues like sexual assault and the ranks and other problems, the military is still a very well-regarded institution in the public.
When people see that among veterans they think, "This is someone I can trust. This is someone coming with an important experience." Now, whether or not that holds true once they get in is one of the things that we're starting to look at. We've seen anecdotally quite a few veterans who have reached out across the aisle in recent years despite the increasing fracturing of politics on Capitol Hill.
We did research before of these nearly 200 candidates who ran on the Republican side more than half of them were election deniers. Either raised concerns about how the 2020 election was conducted. They voted against certification or on the campaign trail they publicly denied that Biden was legitimately elected president. Being a veteran doesn't isolate you from the political pushes and polls that we see elsewhere in the campaign trail
Melissa Harris-Perry: New York's 22nd congressional district, there were two veterans running against one another. Could you tell us about that one?
Leo Shane III: There were quite a few races that pit one veteran against another. Again, being a veteran isn't the primary selling point. We're not seeing any races that are being won just because someone is a veteran. We're seeing both parties, we're seeing both Republicans and the Democrats really aggressively recruiting veterans, especially younger veterans, folks who understand what's going on in the recent wars, folks who know that life and can translate that on the campaign trail.
We've seen quite a few, especially for some of the veterans who are incumbents, when they get challengers, a lot of times the challengers can be veterans themselves and they say, "Let's take that issue off the board so we can see both sides get that advantage." One of the things that we're going to see with the new crop of veterans coming into Congress is the most female veterans in Congress we've ever had.
There's already seven female veterans who have been elected to office. It's one more than we've previously had. There are still a few races outstanding, so we don't know if it'll go up even further. That again is broadening the voice, it's not just old male veterans who are coming into Congress and helping with policy. Now we're seeing the women veterans come in and start talking about things like sexual assault, like opening combat jobs to women some of the disparities we've seen.
It really does broaden the conversation on Capitol Hill.
One of the things that we've seen with the female veterans too, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Tammy Duckworth out of Illinois on the Senate side, there's a little more camaraderie between them. There's a little more reaching across the aisle to try and work on some issues. Again, very small samples. I don't know that we can give you statistical certainty that they're more bipartisan than other ones. A lot of times the female veterans in Congress will come together on big legislative issues and use their combined power to try and convince their colleagues, "This is an issue that we need to move forward."
Melissa Harris-Perry: Okay. I want to talk about some of the issues facing veterans. Last week, officials announced an 11% decrease in the number of veterans experiencing homelessness over the last two years. What does that number tell you about the question of the experience of veterans who are unhoused in this country?
Leo Shane III: Yes, it says that years of efforts into this seem to be working, seem to be producing some results. It was back in 2010 when President Obama announced that he wanted to end veteran homelessness. At the time, he and VA secretary Eric Shinseki were very public about not just reducing but trying to hit zero in a lot of corners that were laughed off. You're not going to completely get rid of homelessness.
What we've seen is over the last decade with targeted programs, with some new approaches, the number has gotten down about 55%, and this 11% decrease over the last two years is another big step forward. It shows that some of these more targeted efforts are working. It's good news for veterans, it's also good news for folks who are looking at the homelessness problem at large in America because some of the lessons that they've learned here are starting to trickle out to larger programs.
One of the big one is the housing first model. This is the idea that instead of dealing with other issues before you get veterans into housing, get them housing first. If there's drug problems, if there's mental health problems, if there's financial issues, the first thing is find a stable place for them to live. Find some shelter for them and then it's easier to deal with the other problem. That's an idea that was controversial 5-6 years ago. Now after the success in the veterans' sphere we're really seeing that start to trickle out all over.
Melissa Harris-Perry: How are you planning to spend your Veterans Day?
Leo Shane III: I was thinking about this last night because my children both have off from school and we're saying, "Oh, it's another day off from school. We can just relax. We can do stuff." I do need to sit down and talk to them. They understand that I cover veterans but they're younger. Their concept of what veterans are is pretty murky at this point. Their grandfather was a veteran. He passed away a few years ago. Their great-grandfathers are both veterans.
I am trying to explain to them why it's important, why this is a population that I write about, and even if it's not something that directly affects us why it's something that we all need to pay attention to. I think one of the things that I find frustrating as a veterans' reporter is just how little we cover it during the rest of the year. We do a good job covering education. We do a good job covering some subgroups but veterans are all over. They don't live in one section of the country and that's it.
Even though it's a smaller number there are still 18 million veterans across America. It's important to remember that their experience is there and they don't need to be as distant as they are. I'll also probably have to go walk the dogs for my 92-year-old veteran neighbor but that's a little less magnanimous than I just don't want his dogs jumping over the fence at me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I love it when we actually know our neighbors and do things like walk dogs and feed cats for one another. It's what makes really living in a community worth it. Leo Shane III is Deputy Editor for The Military Times. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Leo Shane III: I appreciate the invite.
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