A former infantry officer who led one of the first Marine platoons into Iraq in 2003 said veterans have what it takes to buck partisan gridlock in Washington and bring compromise back to government leadership.

Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., said he wants to see young veterans getting more involved in their communities and considering a run in local, state or federal elections. Moulton, a Harvard University graduate, left the Marine Corps as a captain in 2008 after seven years in uniform and four deployments to Iraq. 

“[Veterans] should get involved in politics, you should get involved in our democracy,” Moulton said Wednesday night during MOAA's annual council presidents' dinner following an all-day Storming the Hill event. “You should have a stake in the future of our country.” 

Moulton said he sees a lack of courage in Congress that he thinks veterans can change. Lawmakers are too quick to toe the party line and are often unwilling to compromise, he said. Military leaders understand the importance of cooperation - and more importantly, he added, they know that people need to come before policies. 

“I firmly believe that if we had more veterans in Congress, like we used to mid-last century, we would be getting a lot more done for the American people,” Moulton said to a roomful of applauding MOAA chapter leaders.

When Moulton was in the Marine Corps, he led troops from all over the country who came from vastly different backgrounds. They had different religious beliefs and ethnicities, he said, but none of that mattered when it came to their mission.

“At the end of the day, we were able to set aside those differences and do what was right for the country, and I think Congress ought to have the ability - and ought to have the courage - to do the same thing,” Moulton said.

Moulton cofounded the bipartisan Warrior Caucus in Congress with Oklahoma Republican Rep. Steve Russell. The caucus includes 25 combat veterans serving in the House of Representatives from 18 different states. The group has come together to support legislation on everything from Veterans Affairs care to the authorization of military force in Syria.

“That's the kind of compromised principle of putting people over politics and principle over party you can get when you put veterans together,” Moulton said.

Moulton, 39, got into politics six years after leaving the Marine Corps when he was contacted by a nonprofit that was encouraging Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to consider running for office. In an unusual move, Moulton ran against a Democratic incumbent, former Rep. John Tierney. He beat the odds and won, and later defeated a former Republican state senator in the general election.

Despite Americans' low approval ratings for members of Congress, Moulton says many of them are smart and hardworking politicians. What's lacking in the Capitol building isn't intelligence, he said, but the willingness to speak truth to power and party.

Doing the right thing isn't always the easiest choice, Moulton added, but he holds close a memory from the campaign trail when a fellow veteran at a diner reminded him of his mission.

“He said, 'Seth, if you get elected, promise me that you'll go to Washington as an American - not as a Democrat or as a Republican, but as an American,' ” Moulton said. “I try to remember that advice every single day that I've been in Congress.”