WASHINGTON - In 2012, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard became one of the first two female combat veterans ever elected to Congress.

But when the Hawaii Army National Guard Major began working on veterans’ issues with her male colleagues, she noticed the needs of female veterans were not being met.

“We saw how our voices in that conversation immediately made a difference, both sharing our own experiences of being deployed overseas, serving in combat,” Gabbard said.

But now that number of female veterans turned representatives is growing in this new Congress (now up to four in the 116th Congress) and so are their voices.

On Wednesday, Gabbard and U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.) launched the newServicewomen & Women Veterans Congressional Caucus.

“We are here to enact change to better support the brave women who have answered the call to serve,” Houlahan said.

For Houlahan, that change starts with child care for active military moms. The retired Air Force engineer was active duty when she gave birth to her first child 27 years ago. Stationed outside of Boston, she found the cost of private child care was too high, and there was a six-month waiting list on her base.

“So, there I was with a new baby, a mission dealing with ballistic missiles, (and) no viable options for child care,” Houlahan said.

The caucus also plans to focus on issues affecting women after their military service ends, such as working with the Dept. of Veterans Affairs to improve women’s health care.

All of this comes as the number of women serving active duty has jumped by eight-times since the draft ended following the Vietnam War; of the total enlisted servicemembers, women made up two percent in 1973 compared to sixteen percent in 2016, according to a 2018 report from the Council on Foreign Relations.

Houlahan chairs the caucus with vice chairwomanships held by Gabbard, U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) and U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.). The group consists of 51 members, mostly Democrats. Women make up nearly half of the caucus members. But there are some men from the other side of the aisle who are saying party doesn’t matter for issues such as this.

“We serve not only as veterans, but many of us have kids who are going onto the military. So, we’re moms and dads of servicemen and women,” said U.S. Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), a retired Brigadier General in the U.S. Air Force.

It’s a welcome sign for Gabbard, who is still active duty herself.

“Together we bring a valuable perspective and expand the capability of our military to engage in the environments around us both on and off the battlefield,” she said.