An NCSL analysis conducted after the 2020 elections identified at least 911 military veterans currently serving in the legislatures of the 50 states and five U.S. territories. These veterans make up 12.24% of the 7,383 state legislators nationwide. Veteran legislators represent every branch of the military and the National Guard as they bring their training, commitment and leadership skills to state government.
The dedication of these legislators who pursued elective office in the states, concurrent with or following military service, is an example to many as the true meaning of public service. Military families are very much appreciated as well since they are vital support systems for all those service members and veterans who dedicate themselves to serving the nation.
The number of veterans in legislatures may have declined slightly since the last election cycle. Based on information compiled in 2016 by the American Enterprise Institute, 1,040 state legislators had military experience in 2016, representing 14% of all legislative members. The post-2020 NCSL figures reflect a slight decline in both numbers and percentages.
By chamber in 2021, House members include 658 veterans, while Senate members consist of 253 veterans. These numbers were 780 and 260, respectively, in 2016, according to AEI.
New Hampshire has the largest number of legislators (424) and the largest number of veterans, with 72 members having served in the military. After New Hampshire, the states with the most veterans serving as legislators are Georgia (34), Missouri (30) and Pennsylvania (27). States with 15% or more veterans in the legislature include Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming.
At least 162 state legislators currently serve in the National Guard, which consists of the Army National Guard and the Air Force’s Air National Guard. While federally funded, the National Guard is organized and controlled by the states. Another 122 state legislators are members of Reserve units of various branches of the U.S. military. A prior compilation by NCSL in 2010 found that 63 state legislators served then in Reserve units or National Guard units.
“As a daughter of a Vietnam War veteran and granddaughter of a WWII and Korean War pilot, I know the sacrifices our veterans and their families make for our country. Because I value and respect their service, it is my priority to support our military families and ensure that our communities have critical infrastructure and resources for service members and their families to succeed, from strong schools and affordable housing to smooth transitions for spouses to get employment and support for those who are struggling.” —Washington Representative Mari Leavitt (D)
“Serving as a state legislator is a natural progression from military service. The freedoms and values we defend overseas are carried out at the state level. We send a loud message to young democracies when we show them the rule of law, democratic institutions, and that our freedoms are carried out as the Founders intended. Ultimately, global leadership and service at the state level are two sides of the same coin.” —Ohio Representative Adam Miller (D)