Muhammad Ali famously said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” A unique combination of service is carried out by military veterans fulfilling duties as members of the nation’s legislatures.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 1.4 million active-duty military personnel serving in the United States armed forces and over 18 million veterans. An NCSL analysis conducted after the 2022 elections identified over 800 military veterans serving in U.S. legislatures. Veterans make up 11% of the nation’s 7,386 state lawmakers and serve as elected leaders across the various legislative chambers.
“Serving in public office is an extension of my service in the military.”
—Virginia Sen. Bryce Reeves
Veterans in state legislatures represent every branch of the military and the National Guard. Their military experience provides them with a distinctive perspective on the meaning of public service and gives them a deeper understanding of the needs of veterans, military personnel and their families, leading to a focus on legislation supporting those communities.
Virginia Sen. Bryce Reeves, who served as a U.S. Army airborne ranger and infantry officer, chairs the Virginia Military Caucus and co-chairs the NCSL Military and Veterans Affairs Task Force.
The leadership skills he learned as an officer have serve him well in the Legislature, Reeves says. “One trait I personally believe anyone who has worn the cloth of our country has, is the ability to analyze complex issues and find positive solutions quickly. Those traits translate into getting legislation passed and signed into law,” he says. “For me personally, serving in public office is an extension of my service in the military. My legislative focus and mission has always been to make sure we enhance our military readiness by taking care of our active, reserve and military families. My goal is to make sure Virginia is the most veteran-friendly state in the country.”
Reeves and his legislative colleagues with military affiliation will be saluted at the 2023 Legislative Summit in Indianapolis in August, as NCSL continues its tradition of honoring veterans, especially those who continue to serve their country in the state legislatures.
Upon registering on-site for the Summit, veterans and service members will receive a lapel pin honoring their service. A special breakfast on Tuesday, Aug. 15, at 7:45 a.m. for all military veterans, reservists and guard members attending the Summit will be followed by a tribute to veterans during that day’s general session, where all meeting attendees will hear the inspirational story of Army Master Sgt. Cedric King. Veterans attending the breakfast will receive a custom NCSL commemorative coin.
Military and veterans’ affairs policy is discussed and shared under the auspices of the NCSL Military and Veterans Affairs Task Force. This group enables state legislators and staff from across the country to convene and share best practices, identify policy options, and explore innovations that support military personnel, veterans and their families. The task force meets in person and virtually throughout the year to discuss issues and share information. It also holds webinars and other events to engage with stakeholders and provide information to legislators and staff. The task force meets on Sunday, Aug. 13, during Summit.
NCSL tracks a variety of military and veterans’ issues, including development near military installations; military-community partnerships to respond to mission change; veterans employment initiatives and hiring preferences; education programs; mental health; housing; and benefits for military personnel, veterans and their dependents. For more on the bills states have enacted to assist veterans and service members, please see the NCSL military and veterans state legislation database.
NCSL has more information on the Task Force on Military and Veterans Affairs, veterans who serve as legislators or staffers, the story of Army Master Sgt. Cedric King, and the 2023 NCSL Legislative Summit.
Diana Noel is vice president of NCSL’s State Policy Research Program.
Jim Reed directs NCSL’s Energy, Environment and Transportation Program and staffs the Task Force on Military and Veterans Affair.