The Department of Veterans Affairs has denied a request to make its motto “gender neutral,” reports Stars and Stripes, a military newspaper.
For 59 years, the VA’s motto has read: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” The quote comes from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address in 1865, the same year Lincoln created the government’s institution for volunteer soldiers.
Plaques at the entrance of VA headquarters in Washington, D.C., display the quote, as do many VA facilities across the nation.
In November, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America asked VA Secretary David Shulkin to change the motto. The group said it was “sexist and outdated. On Jan. 26, the VA responded by saying the motto stills as a representative of “the heart of our noble mission,” Stars and Stripes reported.
IAVA Executive Director Allison Jaslow said she believes the VA’s response brushed off both the group’s request and larger, obstacles faced by female veterans.
“They’re missing the point that women don’t feel comfortable at the VA,” Jaslow told Stars and Stripes. “We want to be respected and appreciated as much as male veterans are, and the motto is symbolic of overall challenges.”
In a response to the IAVA, Kayla Williams, director of the VA Center for Women Veterans, noted that VA leaders have gradually been using an updated version of the quote: “To care for those who shall have borne the battle and their families and survivors.”
“Recognizing that they can seem exclusionary to some women veterans, for many years I – along with other senior VA leaders – have honored the population we serve today by using a modernized version,” Williams wrote in a letter to Jaslow. “This symbolic update, which we are continuing to gradually incorporate alongside the original in digital and print materials, as well as spoken remarks, is an important acknowledgement of today’s veteran population.”
Williams’ letter mentions services the VA offers just for women, such as cervical cancer and breast cancer that are done at higher rates than in the private sector. The VA also gives women access to prenatal and maternity care and has a military sexual trauma coordinator.
Jaslow told Stars and Stripes she wasn’t satisfied with the response.
“I understand the need for incremental change in some instances, but not when there’s such a disparity,” she said.