By the numbers: Veterans in Congress

The 114th Congress will be made up of 70 current members and 11 incoming members of the U.S. House of Representatives who have served or are serving in the U.S. military. Three of the incoming members are Democrats; the other seven are Republicans. A number of veterans who are currently serving in the House decided to retire this year, and a small number lost re-election.

Veterans-and-Congress_Image1On the Senate side, three incoming members (two of whom are currently serving in the House) are serving or have served in the military — Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Gary Peters of Michigan and Joni Ernst of Iowa. There are currently only 13 members of the Senate who served in the military.

In all, 97 members of the next session of Congress will have served in the U.S. military. That means less than 18 percent of the new congressional delegation served in the armed forces. (Note: This number includes one non-voting delegate from the Northern Marianas.)

Compared to the 113th Congress, which began with 108 military veterans, the drop-off for the 114th Congress is only slight, but over the past 25 years nearly every congressional delegation has had fewer veterans than the previous group. Sixteen percent of senators and 18 percent of representatives in the new class will be military veterans or are currently serving.

Veterans-and-Congress_Image2Jump back to 1971, when member military service was at its peak, veterans made up 72 percent of members in the House and 78 percent in the Senate. In 1981, that number dipped to 64 percent of members, but veterans still made up a majority of Congress.

However the ratio of veterans in Congress still continues to top the percentage of the U.S. population that has served in the military. The most recent data from the 2010 Census shows that only seven percent of Americans have served in the military, while veterans make up 20 percent of the current Congress.

Veterans-and-Congress_Image3In 1971, 73 percent of members of Congress were veterans, but veterans made up fewer than 15 percent of the American population. Ten years later, 62 percent of Congress had served in the military, while just 12 percent of the population were veterans. In 1991, 11 percent of Americans were veterans, but the number of veterans in Congress dropped to 48 percent. And in 2001, 30 percent of members were veterans, and nine percent of Americans had served in the military.

The final thing to consider is the number of active duty military personnel over the past 70 years. In the 1940s, during the height of World War II, nearly nine percent of Americans were serving in the military. During the Vietnam War, Gulf War, Iraq War and War in Afghanistan less than two percent of the U.S. population served in the armed forces.