With roots traceable back to 1636, when the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony passed a law that provided support for disabled soldiers, the U.S. has created the most comprehensive system of assistance for Veterans of any nation in the world.
Since then, we’ve seen support for Veterans grow from pensions for disabled Revolutionary War soldiers in 1776, to the first domiciliary and medical facility authorized by the federal government in 1811, to expanded benefits and pensions for the widows and dependents of Veterans in the 19th century. In 1917, we saw new Veterans benefits when the U.S. entered World War I including disability compensation, insurance for Servicemembers and Veterans and vocational rehabilitation for the disabled. By the 1920s the benefits were administered by three different agencies – the Veterans Bureau, the Bureau of Pensions at the Interior Department and the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. These three agencies were consolidated into the Veterans Administration in 1930.
The responsibilities and benefits programs of the new administration grew during the following six decades to include the World War II GI Bill that addressed education, training, unemployment compensation and home loan guarantee benefits for Veterans. In 1973, the National Cemetery System became a part of VA.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Act of 1988 elevated the administration into the Cabinet-level department we know today. It was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on Oct. 25, 1988, and came into effect under the term of President George H.W. Bush on March 15, 1989.
President Bush hailed the creation of the new department saying, “There is only one place for the veterans of America, in the Cabinet Room, at the table with the President of the United States of America.”
Five years ago, on VA’s 20th anniversary, President Obama spoke to the important role of caring for our nation’s Veterans. “…[W]hen our fellow citizens commit themselves to shed blood for us, that binds our fates with theirs in a way that nothing else can. And in the end, caring for those who have given their fullest measure of devotion to us — and for their families — is a matter of honor — as a nation and as a people.” Thanks to President Obama’s historic budget requests for VA and the support of Congress, VA is able to continue to honor our Nation’s promises to these unique and special citizens.
Fulfilling that sacred trust is the mission is of today’s VA and its nearly 340,000 employees, approximately 32 percent of whom are Veterans themselves.
To highlight our 25 years of service to Veterans, their families and survivors as the Department of Veterans Affairs, we’ll be sharing 25 facts you may not know about VA. Here are the first five:
- VA still cares for the child of a Civil War Veteran, more than 100 children and spouses of Spanish-American War Veterans, and more than 4,000 children and spouses of World War I Veterans – who receive annual pensions from VA. As Secretary Shinseki has said, “The promises of President Abraham Lincoln are being delivered, 150 years later, by President Barack Obama. And the same will be true 100 years from now—the promises of this president will be delivered by a future president, as yet unborn.”
- Slightly over 11 million of the approximately 22 million Veterans in this country are registered, enrolled or use at least one VA benefit or service. Over the next decade, the Department of Defense predicts that military separations will approach three million giving even more men and women access to VA’s many services.
- In the 25 years VA has been a cabinet agency, thanks to the strong support of Congress, numerous presidents, and the American taxpayers the budget has increased nearly three-fold. In this quarter century, America has shown its commitment to America’s Veterans through its support of VA. For fiscal year (FY) 2015, the president has proposed a $163.9 billion budget, a 6.5 percent increase over FY 2014, that will support VA’s goals to expand access to health care and other benefits, eliminate the disability claims backlog, and end homelessness among Veterans. The 2015 Budget request reflects a 35.2% increase in discretionary budget since 2009. The resources provided to VA over time allowed expansion in medical “points of care” including medical centers, Vet Centers and community-based outpatient clinics from 379 to 1,750; and saw benefits such as education, vocational rehabilitation, housing and homeless assistance expand exponentially.
- VA pioneered electronic medical records. In 1996, VistA, also known as the Computerized Patient Record System, was fully implemented. Whether a Veteran patient walks into a VA medical center in California or a community-based outpatient clinic in Maine, a VA provider can access that patient’s record.
- Sometimes known as “The father of modern transplantation,” Dr. Thomas E. Starzl, a World War II Navy Veteran, spent nearly 50 years with VA and its predecessor organization. Starzl, shares the Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award for 2012, given from the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, with Roy Y. Calne of the University of Cambridge in England, in recognition of their development of liver transplantation. Starzl began his VA career as a resident surgeon in the Chicago VA Research Hospital.