In 1930, President Herbert Hoover created the Veterans Administration by consolidating three existent organizations—the U.S. Veterans Bureau, the National Homes for Disabled Soldiers, and the Bureau of Pensions—into an organization of 54 hospitals, 31,600 employees and 4.7 million Veterans, many of whom had served in World War I, others who had fought in the Spanish-American War, and some even in the Civil War.
Nearly 60 years later, President Ronald Reagan signed the Department of Veterans Affairs Act of 1988, elevating the former administration to a cabinet-level department. President Reagan explained, then, that the “bill gives those who have borne America’s battles, who have defended the borders of freedom, who have protected our Nation’s security in war and in peace—it gives them what they have deserved for so long: a seat at the table in our national affairs.”
Saturday, March 15, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of President Reagan’s executive action. This year’s celebration coincides with our ongoing commemoration of the American Civil War—the most divisive and devastating conflict in our nation’s history. President Abraham Lincoln’s charge to all Americans in 1865 has defined America’s covenant with its Veterans—“to care for [those] who shall have borne the battle, and for [their families and survivors].”
Today, we operate 151 medical centers, 135 community living centers, 103 residential rehabilitation treatment programs, 820 community-based outpatient clinics, 300 Vet Centers, 70 mobile Vet Centers, 56 benefits Regional Offices, and 131 national cemeteries. We keep faith with Lincoln’s covenant by serving those whose lifetimes connect us through the centuries—from the last surviving child of a Civil War Veteran, to those of the Spanish-American War, to the families of World War I, to the “lions” of our greatest generation, to the youngest Veterans of our latest generation.
All of our resources—high-quality and safe healthcare, disability compensation and pensions, education and training, home mortgages, life insurance, and jobs that allow them to realize the American Dream—are dedicated to honoring Lincoln’s charge to serve, without hesitation or equivocation, the 7 percent of Americans, who have safeguarded our way of life. They have earned our unwavering commitment through selfless service and immense sacrifice.
Thanks to the leadership of President Obama, the support of Congress, the advice and assistance of Veterans service organizations as well as other Veterans stakeholders, and the devotion and advocacy of our 321,000 VA employees, 32 percent of whom are Veterans themselves, we have achieved remarkable results over the last five years.
We continue to pursue excellence in this noble mission. Our work is far from done. We must continue to envision future requirements and ensure that all generations of Veterans receive the best possible care and services in the decades ahead.
On this, our 25th anniversary as a cabinet-level department, I am proud to serve with all of VA’s dedicated employees as we achieve President Obama’s vision for transforming this Department into a 21st Century organization.
For all that you have done to make this anniversary possible, and for all that we will continue to do together, you have my deepest respect and appreciation, and I look forward to many more years of service to our Veterans.
Eric K. Shinseki is the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.