Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Historic Overview
The United States has the most comprehensive system in the world in providing assistance to Veterans of military service. This benefits system traces its roots back to 1636, when the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony were at war with the Pequot Indians. The Pilgrims passed a law which stated that disabled soldiers would be supported by the colony.
The Continental Congress of 1776 encouraged enlistments during the Revolutionary War by providing pensions for soldiers who were disabled. Direct medical and hospital care given to Veterans in the early days of the Republic was provided by the individual States and communities.
After the Civil War, many State Veterans homes were established. Since domiciliary care was available at all State Veterans homes, incidental medical and hospital treatment was provided for all injuries and diseases, whether or not of service origin.
Congress established a new system of Veterans benefits when the United States entered World War I in 1917. Included were programs for disability compensation, insurance for servicepersons and Veterans, and vocational rehabilitation for the disabled.
The VA health care system has grown from 54 hospitals in 1930, to include 171 medical centers; more than 350 outpatient, community, and outreach clinics; 126 nursing home care units; and 35 domiciliary. VA health care facilities provide a broad spectrum of medical, surgical, and rehabilitative care. The responsibilities and benefits programs of the Veterans Administration grew enormously during the following decades.
World War II resulted in not only a vast increase in the Veteran population, but also in large number of new benefits enacted by the Congress for Veterans of the war. The World War II GI Bill, signed into law on June 22, 1944, is said to have had more impact on the American way of life than any law since the Homestead Act more than a century ago. Further educational assistance acts were passed for the benefit of Veterans of the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam Era, Persian Gulf War, and the All-Volunteer Force.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was established as a Cabinet-level position 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."