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.”
How the VA is structured
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is composed of three distinct Administrations, each of which is described below in excerpts from the VA Organizational Briefing Book, dated June 2010.
- Veterans Health Administration
- Veterans Benefits Administration
- National Cemetery Administration
Veterans Health Administration
The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is among the largest providers of health professional training in the world; operates one of the largest and most effective research organizations in the United States; is a principal Federal asset for providing medical assistance in major disasters; and serves as the largest direct-care provider for homeless citizens in the United States. In 2009, VHA provided health care for nearly 6 million Veterans.
Today’s VHA provides care at more than 1,400 sites throughout the country, employs a staff of 255,000, and maintains affiliations with 107 academic health systems. More than 65 percent of all physicians in the U.S. today have trained in VA facilities.
VA’s Under Secretary for Health has established a clear vision for VHA to be patient-centered; characterized by team care; continuously improving itself; and evidenced-based. VHA will create a culture where Veterans and their families are and feel treated with compassion and genuine respect. Additionally, VA will ensure easy communication with their providers as well as coordination and levels of care across different sites. Veterans and their families will know that VHA is truly a single integrated system of care. These interdisciplinary teams will view patients, families and internal customers as members of the team and actively seek their input to work collaboratively for the Veteran. VHA will strengthen its commitment to continuous improvement as a core operating principle, understanding that “improving our work is our work.” In this way, VHA will contribute to the transformation of VA to better serve the Veterans of the 21st Century. VHA will provide exemplary health care which meets the needs, values and preferences of Veterans and their families.
Veterans Benefits Administration
The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) is responsible for administering the Department’s programs that provide financial and other forms of assistance to Veterans, their dependents, and survivors. Major benefits include Veterans’ compensation, Veterans’ pension, survivors’ benefits, rehabilitation and employment assistance, education assistance, home loan guarantees, and life insurance coverage.
Compensation and Pension Programs provide direct payments to Veterans, dependents, and survivors as a result of the Veteran’s service-connected disability or because of financial need.
Education Programs provide resources to Veterans, servicepersons, reservists, and certain Veterans’ dependents to help with readjustment and restore educational opportunities lost because of service to the country, to extend benefits of higher education to qualified persons who may not otherwise be able to afford it, to aid in military recruitment and the retention of highly qualified personnel, to encourage membership in the Selected Reserve, and to enhance the national workforce. Details may be found at www.gibill.va.gov.
The Loan Guaranty Program provides assistance to Veterans, certain spouses, and service members to enable them to buy and retain homes. Assistance is provided through VA’s partial guaranty of loans made by private lenders in lieu of the substantial down payment and private mortgage insurance required in conventional mortgage transactions. This protection means that in most cases qualified Veterans can obtain a loan without making a down payment. Also, the Loan Guaranty Program offers the following:
The Insurance Programs were created to provide life insurance at a “standard” premium rate to members of the armed forces who are exposed to the extra hazards of military service. Veterans are eligible to maintain their VA life insurance following discharge. In general, a new program was created for each wartime period since World War I. There are four life insurance programs that still issue coverage as well as a program of traumatic injury coverage:
The Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) Program helps service members and Veterans with service-connected disabilities prepare for, find, and keep suitable jobs. For Veterans with service-connected disabilities so severe that they cannot immediately consider work, VR&E offers services to improve their ability to live as independently as possible. Vocational rehabilitation services include a vocational evaluation (i.e. assessment of interests, aptitudes, and abilities), vocational counseling and planning, employment services (i.e. job seeking skills and job placement assistance), training for suitable employment, supportive rehabilitation services, and independent living services.
Vocational and Educational Counseling – VR&E can also provide a wide range of vocational and educational counseling services to service members still on active duty, as well as Veterans and dependents who are eligible for one of VA’s educational benefit programs. These services are designed to help an individual choose a vocational direction and determine the course needed to achieve the chosen goal. Assistance may include interest and aptitude testing, occupational exploration, setting occupational goals, locating the right type of training program, and exploring educational or training facilities which might be utilized to achieve a vocational goal.
National Cemetery Administration
The National Cemetery Administration (NCA) operates 131 national cemeteries in the United States and Puerto Rico, together with oversight/management of 33 soldiers’ lots, confederate cemeteries, and monument sites. NCA’s mission is to honor our Nation’s Veterans with final resting places in national shrines and with lasting tributes that commemorate their service to our Nation. This mission is accomplished through four major program areas:
- Providing for the interment of eligible service members, Veterans, reservists, National Guard members, and eligible family members in national cemeteries. NCA maintains national cemeteries as national shrines.
- Furnishing headstones and markers for the graves of Veterans throughout the United States and the world. NCA furnishes headstones and markers for the graves of Veterans in national, state, and private cemeteries at no cost to the Veteran.
- Administration of the State Cemetery Grants Program, which provides grants to states and tribal governments for establishing, expanding, and improving state Veterans’ cemeteries. Since the program was established in 1978, 274 grants have been awarded, totaling over $482 million through FY 2011. The program provides Federal funding up to 100 percent of the cost of establishing, expanding, or improving state