Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., speaks before President Joe Biden speaks about prescription drug costs at the Daniel Technology Center of Germanna Community College – Culpeper Campus, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022, in Culpeper, Va. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Abigail Spanberger
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., speaks before President Joe Biden speaks about prescription drug costs at the Daniel Technology Center of Germanna Community College – Culpeper Campus, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022, in Culpeper, Va. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

From pressing forward on equal rights to putting the spotlight on veteran needs, Virginia’s lady-led US Congressional District 7 continues to make strides. 

GLEN ALLEN—With the comings and goings, passings and failings of bills, it can be hard to keep up with Congress. But over the past few years, Virginia’s US Congressional District 7, under the leadership of Democrat US Rep. Abigail Spanberger, has kept up with the pace. 

Here are some things to know about the 117th Congress, as of Feb. 22:

  • Democrats controlled the House 226 to 213, with two vacant seats
  • Republicans controlled the Senate 50 to 48, with two Independents who both caucused with the Democrats 
  • Out of those members, there were 149 women: 125 in the House and 24 in the Senate
  • Spanberger was the first woman ever elected to serve the 7th District, taking office in 2019

While the district’s pushed diverse legislation through the Democrat-led House with the Public Disclosure of Drug Discounts Act, the Equality Act to protect LGBTQ individuals from discrimination, and a resolution that removed the deadline for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), the congresswoman recently highlighted work taking place in the 7th District in a specific area.

On March 23, Spanberger held a remote town hall meeting centered around issues facing veterans, active duty servicemembers, and military families. While it occurred during Virginia Women Veterans Week, the call was public and open to anyone with a concern regardless of gender or military status. 

Constituents from District 7 were able to dial in to ask questions or simply to listen to the to meeting. The event was livestreamed online on Spanberger’s website where viewers could also ask questions, as well as on Facebook Live

Guest speakers from the Virginia Department of Veterans Services also joined the congresswoman, ready and willing to help. More than 4,300 Virginians joined the event, according to a press release from Spanberger’s office. 

Important Legislative Changes

Before the question-and-answer portion of the call began, Spanberger highlighted important legislation presented by the 7th District that passed earlier this month with a bipartisan majority of the US House. As part of the Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act, the legislation called for an investigation into the long-term, negative health impacts of jet fuel exposure on America’s servicemembers. 

William G. Collins, a US Air Force veteran from Louisa County, inspired Spanberger’s bill. According to Spanberger’s office, the veteran now lives with Parkinson’s, and long-term exposure to jet fuel among veterans can exacerbate the development of neurological diseases. The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) does not currently recognize the service connection.

Ahead of the bill’s passage, Spanberger took to the House floor where she also relayed two additional stories of veterans who suffered from toxic exposure.

“Mr. Collins served honorably—and he should know that his country has his back,” Spanberger said at the time. “This amendment would bring us one step closer to ensuring that veterans like William have the healthcare benefits they deserve and the acknowledgement of their sacrifice.”

On March 23, she continued the discussion of those impacted.

“I have heard directly from many veterans, and I know there have been real challenges,” Spanberger said at the meeting. “Here in Virginia, I know that many veterans have experienced issues related to toxic exposure.”

She noted that Collins used his experience to advocate for veterans like himself who faced long term impacts because of their service, and supporting veterans suffering from toxic exposures became a top priority of her’s as well.

“When it comes to the focus related to veterans-related issues that I’ve been working on, this advocacy includes working to ensure that military firefighters have the ability to claim service-related or service-connected disability when they are impacted by toxic exposures, as their civilian counterparts would be,” Spanberger said. 

Atomic Veterans

Spanberger’s legislation also focused on providing help to atomic veterans, like Gillie Jenkins from Chesterfield. Jenkins, who is in his 90s, still fights to this day for recognition and healthcare benefits for atomic veterans. 

“For decades and decades, the atomic veterans had to keep their sacrifices a secret, even from their healthcare providers, which impacted the care they could receive,” Spanberger said. “And I’m proud to be one of the very most vocal lawmakers in Congress on behalf of their cause.”

The congresswoman took the opportunity to announce a day set aside for special recognition for those veterans, a provision she introduced in 2021. The day will honor veterans who participated in nuclear tests between 1945 and 1962, served with U.S. military forces in or around Hiroshima and Nagasaki before 1946, or were held as prisoners of war in or near Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“This year and every year into the future, we will now recognize Atomic Veterans Day much in part because of the tremendous advocacy done by people like Gillie Jenkins,” Spanberger said. 

The virtual town hall marked the 23rd of its kind since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, where the 7th District representative listened to concerns and offered helpful solutions to her constituents. Previous topics included the impacts of the virus on Virginia families, veterans, healthcare professionals, small businesses, students, and seniors.