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The Brief History of the VA

I love history and a years ago as I was searching through the VA website, 1 I came across the
fascinating history of the VA. Who knew that while our nation was growing and fighting for
independence, and even before that, the system we call the Veteran’s Administration was
growing with us? The beginning idea of caring for our Veterans dates to 1636, when the Pilgrims
of Plymouth Colony were at war with the Pequot Indians. Recognizing the sacrifice given to
protect the colony, the Pilgrims passed a law stating disabled soldiers would be supported by the
colony.

In 1776 the Continental Congress called upon colonists to enlist during the Revolutionary War
by offering pensions to disabled soldiers. Heeding the call individual states and communities
worked together to provide medical and hospital care to wounded soldiers. In 1811, the federal
government authorized the first rehabilitation and medical facility for Veterans and over time,
assistance programs expanded to include benefits and pensions for widows and dependents of
Veterans.

After the Civil War, State Veterans Homes were established as Congress recognized the need to
provide care to those Veteran’s left homeless by the war and in need of medical care. Known as
National Homes they provided medical care to Veterans for all injuries and diseases, even if not
service related.

After World War I, new benefits were created providing disability benefits, vocational
rehabilitation, and insurance. By 1920, Congress had created three different federal agencies to
service our Veterans: The Veterans Bureau, the Bureau of Pensions of the Interior Department,
and the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.
The Veterans Bureau began managing the Veteran’s hospitals and recognizing a need created by
the lasting effects of WWI, hospital construction was increased to manage the demand for those
exposed to chemical warfare. Veterans’ were returning with respiratory illnesses, Tuberculosis,
and mental health issues, what we now know as PTSD.

By 1924 Veterans benefits were expanded to cover non-service-related illnesses and in 1928,
admission to the National Homes was extended to women, the National Guard and militia
Veterans.

On July 21, 1930, President Herbert Hoover signed Executive Order 5398 and made the Veterans
Bureau a federal administration, thereby creating the Veterans Administration (VA). Since that
time programs and services were added to meet the need to our nation’s veterans.

The GI Bill, signed on June 22, 1944, after WWII, t provided home loans and unemployment
benefits. “It is said the GI Bill had more impact on the American way of life than any law since
the Homestead Act of 1862.” 2

In 1946 the Department of Medicine and Surgery was created within the VA and by 1948 there
were 125 VA hospitals run by some of the country’s top medical talent recruited and paid
through the efforts of General Omar Bradley.

In October of 1988 President Ronald Reagan made the Veteran’s Administration a cabinet level
executive department and it was renamed The Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

The Veteran’s Health Administration under the Department Veteran’s Affairs runs one of the
largest health care systems in the world and it is estimated that approximately sixty percent
(60%) of all medical residents gain a portion of their training with the VA.

The National Cemetery Administration began with legislation in 1862 giving the president
authority to purchase cemetery grounds as national cemeteries. That year 4,476 Union soldiers
were laid to rest follows the Battle of Antietam. After the Civil War, some 300,000 Union
soldiers were buried in 73 national cemeteries. Since 1873 all honorably discharged Veterans are
eligible for burial in a National Cemetery. More than 3.5 million people, to include Veterans of
every war and conflict are buried in VA national cemeteries across our country.

During his second inaugural address, 3 President Abraham Lincoln made a statement that today is
incorporated into the Mission Statement of the VA and engraved on a plaque outside the
entrance to the VA Headquarters in Washington DC:

“To fulfill President Lincoln's promise "To care for him who shall have borne the battle,
and for his widow, and his orphan" by serving and honoring the men and women who are
America's veterans.” 4

To read more about the history of the VA and to read the entire inaugural message of President
Lincoln use the links provided below.

1 https://www.va.gov/about_va/vahistory.asp
2 Ibid
3 https://www.facinghistory.org/reconstruction-era/speech-president-lincoln-second-inaugural-address?
4 https://www.va.gov/landing2_about.htm#:~:text=Mission%20Statement,women%20who%20are%20America’s%20veterans.

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