11/09/2012 11:00 am ET Updated Jan 09, 2013

A Historic Election for New Veterans

The 2012 election was historic for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. A record high 42 new veterans ran for Congress in 2012. Sixteen of these candidates won their bids for Congress yesterday, and two more are in races still too close to call. Voters sent the first female veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to Congress. In Illinois, voters of the 8th district elected Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). While she was deployed in Iraq, Duckworth's helicopter was shot down and she sustained severe injuries, losing both legs and the partial use of her right arm. In Hawaii, voters elected Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who deployed to Iraq and to Afghanistan as part of the Hawaii National Guard. In Arizona's second district, Martha McSally (R-AZ), an Air Force pilot who flew missions supporting the war in Afghanistan, is locked in a race that is too close too call. Depending on how the final two races are resolved, these women will be part of the between 17 and 19 Members of Congress who have deployed Iraq and Afghanistan, a dramatic increase over the ten currently serving.

Some of their names are already familiar, like current Congressmen Steve Stivers (R-OH) and Duncan Hunter (R-CA). Some we'll get to know over the next two years. Take Tom Cotton, for instance, who was elected to represent Arkansas's 4th district. A graduate of Harvard and Harvard Law School, Cotton left his career in law to serve his country in the Army. He deployed to Iraq as an infantry officer in 2006, returned home to lead a platoon at the Old Guard in Arlington National Cemetery, and then deployed again to Afghanistan as an operations officer for a provincial reconstruction team in 2008. He's just one of the new veterans who will be freshmen in Congress next year.

The 42 new veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who ran for Congress in 2012 are Republicans and Democrats. They are men and women. Their names were on ballots in districts scattered across the nation. They served in almost every branch of the military, and in the Active-Duty, Guard and Reserve. They certainly do not agree on every policy position, but two things unify them: They all were part of the less than one percent that served their countries in Iraq or Afghanistan, and they all returned home ready to continue serving in Congress.

Such dedication to service is exactly the spirit of this New Greatest Generation. It's evident in spirit of service that sent many veterans to volunteer in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. It's evident in the leadership veterans bring to companies and businesses across the country. Together, the 2.5 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have enormous potential and stand ready to lead this country just as the Greatest Generation did after WWII.

As a country, we must continue to invest in the potential of this New Greatest Generation. Throughout the election, IAVA called on candidates from both parties to have a plan to address the challenges facing veterans and their families. Each of the new veterans elected to Congress yesterday will have the unique opportunity to fight for their fellow veterans. But before they arrive, Congress must act to pass key legislation pending before them today that addresses veteran employment, education and suicide.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America ( is the country's first and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and has more than 125,000 veteran members and civilian supporters nationwide. Its mission is to improve the lives of this country's newest generation of veterans and their families. As a non-partisan organization, IAVA does not endorse any candidate for office.