2016 Statesmanship Award Recipient – Former Senator Max Cleland

Former United States Senator from Georgia, Max Cleland has been a distinguished public servant for nearly 50 years.

In 1967, Cleland volunteered for service in the Vietnam War and was promoted to Army Captain. He was awarded both the Bronze Star for meritorious service and the Silver Star for gallantry in action after he was seriously wounded. Upon his return, Cleland was elected to the Georgia Senate where he was the youngest member of that body at the time.

In 1975 he was appointed to the staff of the U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, where he investigated hospitals in the Veterans Administration health care system and their treatment of wounded U.S. troops returning from Vietnam. Two years later he was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to head the Veterans Administration, the largest health care system in the country. As the nation’s youngest VA Administrator ever and the first Vietnam veteran to head the department, Cleland created the Vet Center counseling program, among many other accomplishments. Today over 300 Vet Centers across America help veterans and their families deal with post-traumatic stress disorders and associated challenges.

Cleland ran and was elected to succeed Sam Nunn in the United States Senate in 1996. He served on the Senate Armed Services Committee and was a forceful advocate for veterans and for a strong national defense. He successfully fought to improve some of the Department of Defense’s most pressing personnel needs, including recruiting and retention, pay and compensation, reform of the military retirement system and health care. Because of Max Cleland’s efforts, service members who choose not to use their GI bill educational benefits can now pass those benefits on to their children.

In 2002, Cleland was appointed to the 9-11 Commission to study the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and to recommend safeguards against future attacks.

In 2009, President Obama appointed Cleland as Secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission, managing 25 cemeteries overseas where fallen American troops from World War I and World War II are honored.