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Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is commendably replacing its motto with a gender-neutral one reflecting a modern reality: women serve in the military, too, not just men.

In an age where the term "woke" too often derisively greets such changes, consider an influential advocate for the update. It's the well-regarded Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) service organization.

IAVA, as the name suggests, represents military men and women from the nation's most recent conflicts. The organization has been a powerhouse at the U.S. Capitol, where it played a leading role in passing legislation to aid veterans exposed to burn pits.

The wording change has long been an IAVA priority. It began its update-the-motto campaign in 2017 in response to members' concerns. Not surprisingly, the organization's own leadership reflects the modern era's more diverse fighting forces. Its CEO is Allison Jaslow, a former U.S. Army captain who has long sounded the alarm about women and LGBTQ+ veterans feeling "invisible."

"Calling for a change to the VA's motto was ... always more than about words. It was about the need for culture change at the VA and setting the right tone from the top. We must be relentless until the culture at the VA makes every veteran, and their loved ones, feel like they're supported fully," Jaslow said in a March 16 statement after the VA announced the change.

The VA's previous motto was "To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan." It's an excerpt from President Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address. Visitors to the agency's headquarters and its hospital network may have seen plaques with these words displayed.

The new motto honors the historic origins and reads: "To fulfill President Lincoln's promise to care for those who have served in our nation's military and for their families, caregivers and survivors." Plaques with these words will replace the older ones.

While lacking the lyrical quality of Lincoln's words — and to be fair, that's a high bar to match or clear — the new motto's clarity is appreciated. The VA merits praise for heeding the concerns of IAVA and others.

At the same time, it's discouraging that the official motto of such a vital agency has long lagged military reality.

Women play a significant role in today's military. According to the Department of Defense, "In 2021, women made up 17.3% of the active-duty force, totaling 231,741 members; and 21.4% of the National Guard and reserves at 171,000 members."

The number of women volunteering for armed service is also steadily rising, the Defense Department notes.

Those who trust the VA with their care should have no doubt that they are welcome in the agency's facilities and that their medical needs are a priority. The motto update should also serve as a guide for the VA's important, ongoing work to ensure that the fighting forces of today and tomorrow, as well as their families, get the care they have earned.