The new congressional Post-9/11 Veterans Caucus symbolically launched Thursday, on the 12th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War.
But members say they’re less worried about potential new military operations like that and more focused on the lingering impact of the fights of the last decade.
“What happens next is often times the question that isn’t answered,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, co-chair of the new caucus and an Iraq War veteran. “What are the second-, third-, fourth-order effects of these decisions?
“We have firsthand experience with that.”
Thirty-one members of the House and Senate served in the military during the post-Sept. 11 era, 26 of whom served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Several were members of the Guard or reserves, and most have had some personal interaction with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Caucus co-chair Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa. — also an Iraq War veteran — said having friends who are dealing with the wounds of war and the transition from military life brings an important perspective to congressional debates.
“We can educate other members who aren’t as familiar,” he said. “The members of this caucus have unique experiences based on what they did or do in the military. They have lived it.”
The move comes at a time of belt-tightening for Defense Department budgets and increased criticism of VA operations. Caucus members said they want to keep veterans’ voices at the center of those debates, to prevent number crunching from overwhelming the personal stories of those affected.
Caucus members said they plan to work closely with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and other groups focused on younger veterans’ issues. IAVA CEO Paul Rieckhoff said the group is a critical effort to keep the youngest war veterans in the public eye.