Veterans Affairs is the organization responsible for providing comprehensive assistance for veterans of the United States. Its roots can be traced all the way back to before the American Revolution where English colonies in Plymouth provided pensions written into law that distributed money to anyone who aided in defense against the Indians. The official nation’s first pension was created in 1776 to encourage enlistments, and granted half pay for life in the event of loss of limb or other severe disability. However, because of medicine at the time, most injuries proved fatal and only 3000 Revolutionary War veterans ever cashed in on this pension. Later, public land was granted to those who made it to the end of the war.
Between the Revolutionary War and Civil War, multiple federal institutions became responsible for handling and dispensing payments to soldiers. The first official federal legislation for pensions was passed in 1789 which also established the Bureau of Pensions. In 1818, the Service Pension Law provided $20 a month for officers and $8 a month for all enlisted men who needed assistance which increased the number of pension recipients from 2200 to 17,730 in 1820. Congress then established the Bureau of Pensions in 1833, the first administrative unit for veterans pensions.
After the Civil War, the nation’s veterans shot up to nearly 1.9 million. However, only Union soldiers were granted federal benefits following the end of the war. Congress later pardoned all Confederate Service Members in 1958, but by then there was only one surviving veteran of the war to receive this benefit. Because of the high amount of veterans and lack of general funding, the Grand Army of the Republic became the first veteran organized advocacy group in the nation. This organization sought to increase benefits payouts, rebury all battlefield casualties, and restructure payout benefits for all service members. In 1873, the Consolidation Act reorganized the payout system to pay based on disability rather than service rank.
When the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Congress quickly created a new system for Veterans Benefits. This included more programs for disability compensation, insurance for loss of life and property, and vocational and rehabilitation programs. Congress created the Veterans Bureau in 1921, but by this time there were also two other agencies tasked with managing veteran’s pension benefits; the Bureau of Pensions of the Interior Department and the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. The Veterans Bureau became the de facto head of these agencies and was headquartered in Arlington in Washington D.C. By the end of World War I, more hospitals were needed to cater to the influx of returning soldiers, so an ambitious hospital construction program was undertaken which eventually resulted in the indictment of the first president of the Veterans Bureau with charges of conspiracy to defraud the government through hospital contracts.
The Great Depression hit the nation hard, but it hit disabled and unemployed veterans even harder. In May of 1924, Congress passed a compensation act that gave a daily allowance to service members along with an endowment policy available 20 years from the issue date. However, veterans who needed their payout immediately decided to form a protest force that became known as the Bonus Expeditionary Force, an itinerant band of protesters who demanded that their WWI bonuses be paid out immediately rather than 20 years down the road. The Veterans organizations were also consolidated into the Veterans Administration in 1930. In July of 1932, the Bonus marchers led a massive protest on Capitol Hill that resulted in the arrival of federal troops who forcibly removed the protesters. It was a dark day for service members who wouldn’t get access to their bonuses until four years later when Congress authorized early payment of the bonuses in 1936. These protests shed light on the inadequate veterans compensation programs in place, and Congress would then address these problems with the GI Bill of Rights, a comprehensive benefits program passed after WWII.
Following World War II, there was a massive increase in returning veterans, sparking the passage of the GI Bill of Rights in June of 1944. This bill modernized veterans pensions and elevated the organization to similar funding and personnel levels of the War and Navy Departments. The GI Bill contained three key provisions. First was a pension providing up to four years of educational or vocational training. The second provided veterans with federally guaranteed home, farm, and business loans with no down payment. The third was unemployment compensation. Many historians argue that this bill reshaped American life as we know it, transforming the economy and society of America by making home ownership and education a reality for millions of citizens. In 1946, the Department of Medicine and Surgery was established within the VA, along with other programs like the VA Voluntary Service. Following World War II, General Omar N. Bradley became the head of the VA and expanded the organization to accommodate the largest veteran population the country has ever had.
Following the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, the nation experienced an economic recession that left large numbers of veterans unemployed. This recession was combined with an anti-war sentiment at home that left many veterans feeling alienated and not welcome back in society. In 1966, Congress passed the Veterans Readjustment Benefits Act which restored educational benefits to all veterans. This act was successful, and more than 76% of eligible veterans participated in the program. During this time, more veterans assistance centers were established in more than 20 cities.
In October of 1988, President Ronald Reagan elevated the Veterans Administration to the level of a cabinet department. This passage marked the first official legislation renaming the organization into the modern day reincarnation of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The organization was divided into three main components: The Veterans Health Services and Research Administration, the Veterans Benefits Administration, and the National Cemetery System.
Today, the organization employs more than 377,805 people and dispenses some $106 billion in compensation benefits annually. In April of 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to create the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection. This order is intended to increase visibility into the organization and reduce the chances of fraud and ensure our nation’s veterans are treated fairly.
At Landmark Senior Living, we care about those who served our country and those who continue to do so. That’s why we’re looking to help senior veterans and their spouses unlock the benefits available to them through the pension programs offered by the VA. If you’re looking for veteran assisted living benefits, visit Landmark Senior Living in Fall River.