Skip to main content
Select Source:


Veterans OverviewRevolutionary WarCivil WarWorld War IWorld War IIKorean WarVietnam War
Veterans: Overview Two major changes have taken place in the relation of the American veteran to civilian society, especially since 1865: the growth of veterans' groups as nationalist lobbies, and the rapid expansion of a military pension system that some scholars see as the template for the twentieth‐ century American welfare state. Even before the Revolutionary War ended, however, questions of veteran/civilian relations had arisen. In 1776, the Continental Congress pensioned veterans disabled in war, but beyond this step (which had long colonial and English precedents) there was sharp disagreement. Some representatives embraced the ideal of the civilian volunteer, and argued that the service pensions Congress had promised in 1778 represented an entering wedge for standing armies. Such worries were heightened when officers of Washington's army encamped at Newburgh, New York, demanded pensions or a cash equivalent as the price of their disbandment in 1783, and formed a hereditary order, the Society of the Cincinnati. Among enlisted personnel, indigent veterans would finally be pensioned in 1818, but full service pensions did not arrive until 1832. Thus, from its inception, the U.S. military pension system drew distinctions between three classes of the deserving: war invalids; indigent “dependents”; and soldiers whose only claim to benefits was their service.

As a result of the Newburgh remonstrances, Congress, in the Commutation Act of 1783, provided officers with five years' full pay in lieu of half‐pay pensions for life. Because the federal government continued in default until 1791, however, many officers sold their commutation certificates for as little as 12 1/2 cents on the dollar, a fate that also befell many enlisted veteran holders of Continental land warrants. Under acts of 1776 and 1780, Congress had promised the veterans large tracts of the public domain, mostly in the Northwest and Southwest territories; land‐rich states such as Virginia and New York made additional grants. But conflicting state land claims, wars with Indian nations, and land sales restrictions made land warrants of small value to most veterans until the late 1790s, by which time most had sold their warrants to speculators. Eventually, title to 2,666,080 acres of public lands was issued on the basis of Revolutionary claims.

Revolutionary War veterans never organized for mass politics and had little public visibility in the early republic. Many of the estimated 232,000 men who served had been militiamen, whose irregular, seasonal war service produced scant national consciousness (it also excluded them from pension benefits, much to the disgust of those who saw volunteer militias as bulwarks of liberty). Even Continental regulars often had little contact with soldiers from states other than their own, and consequently Revolutionary veterans' organizations were limited in scope. The Society of the Cincinnati declined to only six state chapters, all in the Northeast, by 1832; the Society of St. Tammany, founded by New York City veterans in 1789, quickly evolved into a Democratic political club.

The wars of the early nineteenth century likewise produced few veterans' groups, in part because they produced few veterans: 28,186 were demobilized from the War of 1812, 139,036 from the Mexican War. A tiny Society of the War of 1812 led a fitful existence from 1853 into the 1890s, when it became a hereditary order; the National Association of Mexican War Veterans was not formed until 1874, and lasted barely into the twentieth century. Veterans of both wars benefited immediately from federal land grants and invalid pensions, but dependent and service pensions came only as part of the tremendous pension rush following the Civil War—to War of 1812 veterans in 1871 and to Mexican War veterans in 1887 (dependent) and 1907 (service). Because most Mexican War volunteers had been southerners, there was great resistance to pensioning them in the post–Civil War era, and the law of 1887 excluded those whose wounds had been sustained in Confederate service or who were politically disbarred by the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Civil War revolutionized the relationship of veteran to society. The number of troops involved was unprecedented: at least 2 million men fought for the Union, some 750,000 for the Confederacy. More important, veterans of the Union army in 1866 created a powerful mass organization, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), to lobby for their interests and promote loyalty to the nation‐state. Nearly every Northern town had a GAR post, and with more than 400,000 members by 1890, the GAR was a voting machine for the Republican Party. Politicians of both parties vied for the veterans' favor with generous pension legislation, especially the Arrears Act (1879) and Dependent Pension Act (1890), the latter granting a virtual service pension to Union veterans at a time when many were still in their fifties. By 1891, military pensions accounted for one dollar of every three spent by the federal government, and at the peak in 1902, 999,446 persons (including widows and dependents) were on the pension rolls. By 1917, the nation had spent approximately $5 billion on Civil War pensions. Reformers attacked the frauds that riddled this system.

Beyond pensions, Civil War veterans occupied the center of a postwar culture that in each region venerated its ex‐soldiers. In the North, cities erected expensive monuments; Gettysburg was preserved as a historical park; and Grand Army men lectured schoolchildren on patriotic holidays, including Memorial Day, first proclaimed by GAR commander in chief John Logan in 1868 to honor the Union dead. By 1888, twelve northern states and the federal government had erected soldiers' homes. Union veterans won land grants, special treatment under the Homestead Act, and preference in hiring—by law in some states, de facto in federal agencies such as the Pension Bureau. The most important aspect of Union veteran culture, however, was its intensely conservative nationalism, visible in the GAR's crusades against anarchy, flag desecration, and “impure” school textbooks in the 1890s. Veterans of the Union army were the first to assert a privileged relation to the national state.

In the South, Confederate veterans organized late, at least partly in reaction to the GAR. Barred from federal entitlements, they obtained pensions and soldiers' homes from most southern states, though such benefits usually were quite modest. (Georgia's Confederate disability pensions, for example, averaged 14% of the federal rate.) The United Confederate Veterans (1889) presided over a veteran culture that shifted ground from intransigence in the 1870s to a romantic “Lost Cause” sensibility in the 1890s that even Union veterans could accept with some reservations.

The legacy of Civil War veterans was immense. First, the Civil War pension system provided the United States's first significant encounter with entitlement spending. When other groups—mothers, workers, the unemployed—sought state aid after 1900, their claims were evaluated in light of the partisanship, nationalistic rhetoric, and fraud that had characterized the Civil War system. Second, the GAR provided an organizational model and political agenda that twentieth‐century veterans' groups copied. Founded after World War I, the American Legion adopted the GAR's internal structure and consulted with aging GAR members on political strategy. All veterans' organizations until the Vietnam War continued the GAR program of flag ritualism, “patriotic instruction,” and unqualified nationalism.

The Spanish‐American War produced only two significant organizations: the United Spanish War Veterans (1904), which soon faded, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), founded in 1913. Unlike the GAR and United Confederate Veterans, the VFW admitted all overseas veterans, not just those from one war, a policy that has allowed it to persevere to the present. On the other hand, the VFW policy of limiting membership to overseas veterans initially hampered the organization in competition with the more inclusive American Legion.

The approximately 4 million veterans of World War I returned to a situation markedly different from that following the Civil War. High unemployment marked both periods, but the soldiers of 1865 came back mostly to farms, while those of 1919 returned primarily to cities, where joblessness was acute and vocational training scarce. Rural land grants proposed by Interior Secretary Franklin Lane in 1919 proved impracticable in any case, since most arable public land had already been given away. Meanwhile, labor and political strife were rampant—revolution in Russia, chaos in Germany, a general strike in Seattle, a race riot in Chicago, and indices of class and racial turmoil elsewhere in the United States.

Under such circumstances, the American Legion (founded at Paris in 1919) came out immediately against “Bolshevism” and other radicalism, which it defined broadly to include everyone from the Communist Party to the League of Women Voters. Legion members helped break strikes of Kansas coal miners and Boston police in the summer of 1919, and from the 1920s through the 1950s made a war on “reds” one of their main activities. Legionnaires helped bring a House Un‐American Activities Committee into existence in 1938 and aided FBI probes of subversion thereafter. The interwar Legion was strongest in smaller cities and among prosperous members of the middle class. Like the GAR, it left racial matters largely to localities, which in practice usually meant segregated posts.

The War Risk Act of 1917 was intended to avoid the expense and abuses of the Civil War pension system by allowing World War I soldiers to pay small premiums in return for life insurance and future medical care. Ad ‐min istration of the act was inefficient, however, and veterans' hospitals proved too few in number and unable to cope with late‐developing disabilities and shell shock. The first vocational training and rehabilitation programs for veterans, established in 1917, similarly suffered from underfunding, poor teaching, and the tendency of veterans to treat “training” grants as pensions. Veteran protests brought about the consolidation of medical and educational programs in the Veterans Bureau (1921), which in 1930 became the Veterans Administration (VA). It was not until Frank Hines replaced the corrupt Charles Forbes in 1923, however, that the bureau began to function effectively.

World War I veterans never received service pensions and were eligible for nonservice‐related disability pensions only briefly, from 1930 to 1933. Instead, attention focused on “adjusted compensation,” a bonus approved by Congress in 1924 and payable in 1945, designed to make up for wartime inflation and lost earnings. Veterans were seriously divided on the propriety of the bonus, even after depression hardships drove 20,000 of them to march on Washington in 1932 as a “Bonus Army” demanding its immediate payment. Although troops led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur violently expelled the veterans from the city, the bonus was finally paid in 1936.

The rise of a general social welfare system under the New Deal decreased the need for military pensions and made aid to ex‐soldiers seem less like “special benefits.” Thus, when the 12 million veterans of World War II returned home, debate was minimal over the largest package of veterans' benefits in American history. The G.I. Bill (1944), drafted by former Legion commander Harry Colmery, provided World War II veterans with free college education and medical care, unemployment insurance for one year, and guaranteed loans up to $4,000 to buy homes or businesses. Other legislation guaranteed farmers loans on crops, reinstituted vocational training, and tried to safeguard the jobs of returning employees. By the 1970s, VA spending was greater than all but three cabinet departments (it achieved cabinet status in 1989). By 1980, benefits distributed under the G.I. Bill totaled $120 billion, an enormous investment in “social capital” and social mobility.

Unlike previous wars, World War II was fought mostly by conscripts, which may have made taxpayers more willing to compensate them for “forced labor.” These veterans were slightly younger and better educated than World War I veterans; they were mustered out into considerably less class and racial strife than the veterans of 1919. Still, they joined older veterans' groups rather than forming significant new ones: American Legion membership, which had fluctuated between 600,000 and 1 million before 1941, reached a record 3.5 million in 1946, while VFW membership rose from 300,000 to 2 million. Among liberal alternative groups founded in 1945, only AMVETS reached 250,000 members.

The Korean and Vietnam conflicts produced none of the triumphalism that followed World War II. Although the VA continued to grow—its 1995 budget was $37.4 billion, more than half of it earmarked for benefits—the Legion and VFW struggled throughout the 1960s and 1970s to attract new veterans. After the Vietnam War, which the older organizations supported fiercely, young veterans felt alienated from a society that often ignored or pitied them. In 1967, they formed the first significant antiwar veterans' group, the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW; after 1983, the Vietnam Veterans of America, VVOA). With less than 20,000 members, the VVAW publicized war atrocities and lobbied for American withdrawal. In the 1980s, more Vietnam veterans began to join the Legion and VFW, bringing those groups up to their 1995 memberships of approximately 3 million and 2 million, respectively. Yet the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial, dedicated at Washington in 1982, remains starkly noncelebratory: a sunken black granite wall listing names of the dead.

More recent health problems of Persian Gulf War veterans have highlighted the special needs of servicemen and women.
[See also Battlefields, Encampments, and Forts as Public Sites; Memorials, War; Newburgh “Conspiracy.”]


William Glasson , Federal Military Pensions in the United States, 1918.
Dixon Wecter , When Johnny Comes Marching Home, 1944.
Mary R. Dearing , Veterans in Politics: The Story of the G.A.R., 1952.
Wallace Davies , Patriotism on Parade: The Story of Veterans' and Hereditary Organizations in America, 1783–1900, 1955.
Paul Starr , The Discarded Army: Soldiers After Vietnam, 1973.
Peter Karsten , Soldiers and Society: The Effects of Military Service and War on American Life, 1978.
William Pencak , For God and Country: The American Legion, 1919–1941, 1989.
Stuart McConnell , Glorious Contentment: The Grand Army of the Republic, 1866–1900, 1992.
Theda Skocpol , Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States, 1992.
R. B. Rosenberg , Living Monuments: Confederate Soldiers' Homes in the New South, 1993.
Laura S. Jensen , The Early American Origins of Entitlements, Studies in American Political Development, 10 (1996).
Eric T. Dean, Jr. , Shook Over Hell: Post‐traumatic Stress, Vietnam and the Civil War, 1997.

Stuart McConnell

Veterans: Revolutionary War Because inadequate records were kept, the exact number of Americans who fought in the Continental army and in state militia units during the Revolutionary War (1775–83) is unknown. Most former members of the Continental army officer corps became ardent nationalists as a result of their military service and pressed to replace the Articles of Confederation with a new constitution. President George Washington placed a number of his former Continental army officers in executive positions in the new federal government.

Continental officers created the Society of the Cincinnati for themselves, but no national veterans' organizations emerged for the common soldiers. Many veterans of the Revolution continued to serve in the militia after 1783, and for numerous Americans the militia embodied the republican ideals of the citizen‐soldier. The heightened nationalism that emerged after the War of 1812 helped turn the aging and shrinking ranks of Revolutionary War veterans into symbols of civic virtue in the eyes of politicians and the public. In communities across the country, these gray‐haired ex‐soldiers often received honored places at the head of Fourth of July parades and other rituals honoring the Revolution and the Republic.

In 1818, responding to the public's growing esteem for the Revolutionary veteran, the U.S. Congress for the first time offered pensions to any veteran of the Continental army who had demonstrated financial need and had served for at least nine months. This differed from previous pensions offered only to officers and also to those soldiers permanently injured in battle. In 1832, Congress further liberalized these requirements and granted pensions to all living veterans, including militia members, regardless of financial need, if they had served for six months. This pension system set important precedents for the relationship of the veteran and the federal government. Subsequently, after every major war, veterans often received pensions and other benefits by virtue of their wartime service.
[See also Revolutionary War: Postwar Impact; Revolutionary War: Changing Interpretations.]


John C. Dann, ed., The Revolution Remembered: Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence, 1980.
John P. Resch, Politics and Public Culture: The Revolutionary War Pension Act of 1818, Journal of the Early Republic, 8 (Summer 1988), pp. 139–58.

G. Kurt Piehler

Veterans: Civil War The Civil War produced more than 2 million veterans of both armies; as late as 1890, the federal census found 1,034,073 surviving Union ex‐soldiers and 432,020 former Confederates. At the war's close, both groups faced dim employment prospects, civilian indifference, and the lingering effects of wounds and disease—13.9 percent of Union veterans and probably 20 percent of ex‐Confederates suffered from wounds alone. Union veterans in 1866 organized the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), which grew to more 400,000 members by 1890 and became probably the most powerful political lobby of the Gilded Age. Smaller groups included the Union Veteran Legion, the Veterans Rights Union (VRU), and the officers‐only Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS). Union veteran political pressure helped bring about the Arrears Act of 1879, which doubled pension expenditures in less than two years, and the Dependent Pension Act of 1890, which created a service pension system in all but name. The number of Union pensioners (including widows) reached a peak of 969,711 in 1901. In 1874, Congress mandated preference for disabled veterans in federal hiring, and New York and Kansas enacted general veteran preference laws; twelve new state soldiers' homes opened between 1879 and 1888. Federal largess to veterans, which represented the United States's first foray into social welfare spending, drew the fire of genteel reformers such as E. L. Godkin in the 1890s.

Confederate veterans organized much later. The largest Confederate veterans' group, the United Confederate Veterans (UCV), was founded in 1889, and had an estimated 80,000 members by 1903; before 1885, the more exclusive Association of the Army of Northern Virginia (AANV) predominated. Ex‐Confederates were ineligible for federal pensions and hiring preferences, though individual southern states erected sixteen soldiers' homes to care for the wounded and indigent, and some provided modest pensions. Much of Confederate veteran culture, especially after 1890, was tied to a developing Lost Cause mythology that helped southerners cope with defeat while reintegrating themselves within the nation.

The attitudes of Civil War veterans toward each other, and toward noncombatants, were exceedingly complex. Wartime hatreds never really disappeared, as suggested by Grover Cleveland's hasty retraction, under GAR pressure, of an 1887 order to return captured Confederate battle flags to the South, or by ex‐Confederate veneration of Jefferson Davis and his daughter Varina Anne Davis on their tour of the South in 1886. Union and Confederate veterans also skirmished throughout the 1890s over the proper telling of Civil War history in school textbooks. But veterans of both sides also were prone to idealize each other at the expense of “civilians.” Between 1884 and 1887, the Century's widely read “Battles and Leaders of the Civil War” avoided politics and balanced northern and southern viewpoints, while local Blue‐Gray reunions beginning in the 1880s culminated in a gigantic fiftieth anniversary reunion at Gettysburg in 1913. In their memoirs, veterans from both sides tended to emphasize Union, states' rights, and personal heroism and to downplay slavery and race.
[See also Civil War: Postwar Impact.]


Gaines M. Foster , Ghosts of the Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Emergence of the New South, 1987.
Stuart McConnell , Glorious Contentment: The Grand Army of the Republic, 1866–1900, 1992.

Stuart McConnell

Veterans: World War I There were approximately 4.5 million veterans of the eighteen‐month U.S. participation in World War I. The average had served twelve months. About half went overseas for an average of 5.5 months. Some 1.1 million actually saw combat; of these, 204,000 were wounded or otherwise disabled. Veterans were simply mustered out of service from their bases in the United States. The government was unprepared to deal with the problems faced by returning veterans, especially unemployed or disabled veterans. A brief postwar recession in which unemployment reached 16 percent ended by 1921, the year in which the Veterans Bureau (forerunner of the Veterans Administration) was created. A system of veterans' hospitals was established that provided long‐term care especially for war‐related wounds and illnesses, tuberculosis caused by poison gas, and mental illness caused by “shell shock.”

Throughout the 1920s, veterans' benefits averaged $650 million per year, about 20 percent of the federal budget. In 1924, Congress, under pressure, acknowledged that the dollar per day enlisted men received had been outpaced by wartime inflation and voted World War I veterans an “adjusted compensation” (“the Bonus”), to be paid in 1945. During the Great Depression, unemployed veterans, calling themselves the “forgotten men,” demanded immediate payment of the bonus. Congress agreed, but President Herbert C. Hoover vetoed it. When many “Bonus Army” marchers remained camped in Washington, D.C., U.S. Army troops under Gen. Douglas MacArthur used tanks and tear gas to clear the capital of the protestors.

In the 1936 election year, the bonus was paid ahead of schedule at a cost of $3.9 billion of a total federal budget of $8.4 billion. In addition to the “Bonus,” hospitals, and disability benefits, World War I veterans also received civil service preference at all levels of government. Between one‐fifth and one‐third of surviving veterans belonged to the American Legion, formed by World War I veterans in 1919. Having served briefly and gloriously in the Great War, most veterans valued their experience in uniform for comradeship and travel, especially as three‐quarters of the veterans had never seen combat.
[See also Veterans of Foreign Wars.]


William P. Dillingham , Federal Aid to Veterans, 1917–1941, 1952.
William Pencak , For God and Country: The American Legion, 1919–1941, 1989.

William Pencak

Veterans: World War II Over 16 million American men and women served in World War II, and their return home had a profound impact on them and on society. The sudden end of the war in September 1945 complicated demobilization. A shortage of transports as well as the need to maintain occupation forces in Japan and Germany meant long delays in bringing some troops home, especially from the Pacific theater. G.I.s staged demonstrations in Manila, Calcutta, Paris, and several other cities, demanding an immediate return. They were supported by their families. As portrayed in films like The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), once they returned to the United States, they sought in various ways to resume their civilian lives and put the war behind them.

Despite the fears expressed by some social commentators about the destructive influences of war on combatants, the reintegration of veterans into American society produced neither economic upheaval nor a dangerous new class of men unable to accept the norms of civilian life. Returning G.I.s and their families faced a severe shortage of housing; consumer goods also remained in short supply in 1946 and 1947. The generous adjustment allowances provided by the G.I. Bill smoothed the transition of many ex‐servicemen and ‐women into civilian life. Military service did take a significant emotional toll on a number of former servicepeople, especially those who had been in combat. There were also many disabled veterans. But the majority of veterans returned successfully to a society that vindicated their efforts on behalf of the “Good War.” In turn, many returning veterans expressed the strong desire to “get on with their lives,” and after V‐J Day both marriage and birth rates soared as scores of former servicepeople started families.

As a political force, the impact of the World War II veterans on American politics remained important, if often elusive. Their numbers as a potential voting bloc helped explain why politicians showered such an array of benefits, including property tax breaks, educational benefits, and preferences of public employment. Every U.S. president from 1953 to 1992 had served in World War II, and veterans of this conflict also made up a significant portion of both houses of Congress in the period.

The American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Disabled American Veterans attracted a significant share of eligible former servicemen and women. Efforts on the part of some liberal left veterans to create a new mass‐based veterans' organization, the American Veterans Committee (AVC), failed. Tarred by critics for being a Communist front organization, the AVC won the allegiance of only a small fraction of veterans. Even after the “Good War,” the majority of veterans never joined any established veterans' organization. Furthermore, in contrast to veterans of the Civil War, World War I, and later the Vietnam War, the World War II veterans expressed little interest in sponsoring or lobbying for either local or national monuments marking their service, at least until the fiftieth anniversary of the war in the 1990s, when many of its veterans were already passing from the scene.
[See also Memorials, War; World War II: Postwar Impact.]


Davis R. B. Ross , Preparing for Ulysses: Politics and Veterans During World War II, 1969.
Richard Severo and and Lewis Milford , The Wages of War: When America's Soldiers Came Home—From Valley Forge to Vietnam, 1989.

G. Kurt Piehler

Veterans: Korean War Over 6 million Americans served in the armed forces during the era of the Korean War (1950–53), but they represented a smaller cohort demographically than their counterparts in World War II and they failed to garner the same public attention and acclaim. An unpopular war with limited mobilization, the Korean conflict ended in a stalemate instead of total victory. In 1952, the U.S. Congress enacted a Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act providing Korean veterans with educational benefits similar to but less than those offered World War II veterans under the G.I. Bill.

Further tarnishing the image, a handful of American servicemen captured by the enemy renounced their U.S. citizenship and a small number of American prisoners of war who participated in anti‐U.S. propaganda were put on trial by the U.S. government after their exchange for collaborating with the enemy. Some political commentators voiced concerns that captured American soldiers had been “brainwashed” by their Communist captors and now posed a threat of internal infiltration. This theme would be reflected in a controversial 1962 film, The Manchurian Candidate.

By the 1970s, the Korean War became “the forgotten war,” but during the 1980s restored pride in the armed forces and the dedication of the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1982) sparked renewed interest among Korean War veterans and political leaders to build a similar national monument honoring those who served in Korea. Authorized by the U.S. Congress in 1986, built with private funds by the American Battle Monuments Commission, the Korean War Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. in 1995.
[See also Memorials, War; Veterans Administration.]


Richard Severo and and Lewis Milford , The Wages of War: When America's Soldiers Came Home—From Valley Forge to Vietnam, 1989.
Charles S. Young , Missing Action: POW Films, Brainwashing and the Korean War, 1954–1968, Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television, 18 (1998), pp. 49–74.

G. Kurt Piehler

Veterans: Vietnam War The Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) define the 9,656,000 men and 178,000 women who served on active duty in the armed forces between August 1964 and May 1975 as Vietnam‐era veterans. Of these, 2,586,152 men and 7,848 women served in the war in Vietnam.

Public attitudes toward veterans of the Vietnam War shifted from respect in 1965–67 to disdain following an antiwar movement that developed in 1968–70. Veterans and their problems became an embarrassment to the voters and the government as reminders of a war that had lost much popular support. The press highlighted veterans who engaged in violent crime, though they were not significantly overrepresented in crime, drinking, or drug use compared to nonveterans in their age cohort. In the early 1980s, popular sentiment began to change again. The dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington in 1982 marked the beginning of a national commitment to honoring veterans of the war.

Veterans who served in Vietnam faced unique biological and psychological problems. The most serious and widespread biological matter was exposure to dioxin in Agent Orange, a defoliant sprayed by aircraft. The effects of dioxin poisoning, which appeared several months after exposure, included chloracne (skin lesions), peripheral neuropathy (loss of feeling in the extremities), hepatic dysfunction (liver failure), non‐Hodgkin's lymphoma and soft tissue sarcomas (cancers), and porphyrinuria and hypertriglyceridemia (metabolic disorders). None of these conditions was amenable to cure; treatment could only alleviate symptoms.

Approximately 30 percent of veterans of the war suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms appeared gradually, and could include recurrent intrusive dreams and memories, feelings of estrangement from others, flat affect, survival guilt, impaired memory and concentration, exaggerated startle response, and sleep disorders. Veterans experienced higher than expected mortality rates from motor vehicle wrecks, suicide, homicide, and drug‐related medical conditions. PTSD resulted principally from the abrupt rupture of powerful emotional relationships when servicemembers left their comrades in the war zone, the lack of opportunity to process traumatic events with those who had shared them, and hostile or indifferent responses to veterans and their experiences by civilians back home. PTSD was most common among the psychologically vulnerable.

Vietnam veterans made up small minorities (24–28 percent) within the memberships of the existing veterans' organizations. The Veterans of Foreign Wars opposed measures that would benefit Vietnam veterans if those programs competed for dollars with programs to improve benefits for veterans of earlier wars. The American Legion was passive until 1982 with respect to programs for Vietnam veterans. The Disabled American Veterans, the most active advocate of Vietnam veterans' needs, took positive action to support veterans' mental health with storefront clinics.

The Veterans' Education and Training Amendments Act of 1970 (PL 91‐219) was the first of a series of acts to enhance educational benefits for Vietnam‐era veterans. Others include Public Laws 92‐540, 93‐508, 94‐502, and 95‐202. In 1979, 740,000 veterans were enrolled in education or vocational training under these programs. PL 93‐508 also required federal contractors to take affirmative action to hire disabled and Vietnam‐era veterans. Health benefits lagged until popular feelings toward veterans became more favorable in the 1980s. The DoD and DVA were slow to recognize dioxin poisoning and PTSD as service‐connected.

A measure to provide readjustment counseling to victims of PTSD was held up for several years in the House Veterans' Affairs Committee before it was enacted in 1979 (PL 96‐22). In 1981, the Congress gave the Veterans Administration discretionary authority to treat victims of dioxin poisoning, and in 1984, PL 98‐542 established standards for compensation. Not until 1991 was a presumption of service connection established for chloracne, non‐Hodgkin's lymphoma, and soft tissue sarcomas (PL 102‐4). In 1993, DVA established a presumptive service connection for porphyria, Hodgkin's disease, and other cancers.
[See also Toxic Agents: Agent Orange Exposure; Vietnam War.]


David E. Bonier,, Steven M. Champlin,, and and Timothy S. Kolly , The Vietnam Veteran: A History of Neglect, 1984.
Joel Osler Brende and and Erwin Randolph Person , Vietnam Veterans: The Road to Recovery, 1985.
Ghislaine Boulanger and and Charles Kadushin , The Vietnam Veteran Redefined, 1986.

Faris R. Kirkland

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Veterans." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Veterans." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . (December 10, 2017).

"Veterans." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from

Veterans Care


Since the 1970s, the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has responded to a vital demographic trend: Although the total number of veterans is declining, the proportion of older veterans is increasing dramatically. In addition, the proportion of older persons in the veteran population far exceeds the proportion of older persons in the U.S. population in general. Anticipating the needs of a rapidly aging veteran population, VA initiated a comprehensive, three-pronged plan encompassing clinical services, research, and education and training. In meeting the challenge of this aging imperative, VA has become recognized as a national leader in the development and implementation of innovative health care services for older persons (Cooley, Goodwin-Beck, and Salerno). This entry summarizes VAs mission and health care service delivery structure; demographic trends in the veteran population; VAs aging-related clinical programs, research, and health care provider education and training; and examples of emerging VA initiatives in aging.

Mission and service delivery structure

VAs mission is to serve Americas veterans (individuals who have been honorably discharged from U. S. military service) in three major areas: health care, which is coordinated by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA); socioeconomic support and assistance, coordinated by the Veterans Benefits Administration; and burial services, coordinated by the National Cemetery Administration.

VHA operates the largest health care system in the nation, encompassing 172 hospitals, 132 nursing home care units, 40 domiciliaries, and over 600 outpatient clinics. VHA also contracts for care in non-VA hospitals and in community nursing homes, provides fee-for-service visits by non-VA physicians and dentists for outpatient treatment, and supports care in one hundred state veterans homes in forty-seven states.

Since 1995, VHA has undergone a major reorganization. There are twenty-two regional Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs), each comprised of from five to eleven facilities. The VISN, rather than the individual medical center, is the basic planning and budgetary unit of health care delivery in the new VHA structure. VISNs are responsible for providing a coordinated continuum of care for veterans treated in each network of facilities and for supporting research and health profession education activities. Key domains of health care value in which VISN performance is measured include access to care, quality of care, patient satisfaction, patient functional status, and cost-effectiveness.

In addition, VHA has shifted from an inpatient, hospital bed-based system to outpatient, primary, and ambulatory care. There is increased emphasis on noninstitutional settings such as outpatient clinics, home-based services, and other ambulatory and community-based venues.

Demographic trends

In 2000, the median age of veterans was fifty-seven years (U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs), compared to only thirty-six years for the general U. S. population (Administration on Aging). Over 37 percent of the veteran population (9.5 million of the total 25.5 million veterans) was age sixty-five or older, compared to 13 percent of the general population. By 2020, nearly half of the entire veteran population (7.6 million, or 45 percent, of the total 16.9 million veterans) will be age sixty-five or older. Although most veterans are male, the number of female veterans is growing. In 2000, over 5 percent (1.4 million) of all veterans and 3 percent (325,000) of veterans age sixty-five or older were female. By 2020, over 9 percent (1.6 million) of all veterans and 4 percent (316,000) of veterans age sixty-five or older will be female. Among female veterans, the proportion age sixty-five or older was 23 percent in 2000 and is projected to be 20 percent in 2020. As in the general U.S. population, the old-old are the fastest-growing segment of the veteran population. By 2020, 6 percent of all veterans and 13 percent of veterans age sixty-five or older will be age eighty-five or older (1.1 million). Thus, VA will continue to encounter a very large group of potentially frail, older veterans in the next twenty years.

Clinical programs in aging

Typically, older persons have higher use of health care services, including increased number of physician visits, short-term hospital stays, number of days in the hospital, and greater need for long-term care services. Anticipating these needs, VA has developed a broad continuum of geriatrics and extended care services that are provided in a wide variety of settings, including home and the community, outpatient clinics, hospitals, and nursing homes. Together these programs provide preventive, acute, rehabilitative, and extended care on an outpatient and inpatient basis. Home- and community-based programs are emphasized, with coordinated use of hospital and nursing home programs. The shared purpose of these programs is to prevent or lessen the burden of disability on older, frail, chronically ill patients and their families, and to maximize each veterans functional independence.

Several innovative home- and communitybased services are offered. These include Home-Based Primary Care (HBPC), which provides in-home primary medical care to veterans with chronic illnesses. A home-based, interdisciplinary treatment team prescribes medical, nursing, social, rehabilitation, and dietetic regimens and provides training in supportive care to the patient and family caregivers. In addition, VAs homemaker/home health aide program enables selected patients who meet criteria for nursing home placement to remain at home through the provision of personal care services purchased by VA from public and private agencies in the community, with case management provided directly by VA staff. VA also offers Adult Day Health Care, which provides health maintenance and rehabilitation services to veterans in a congregate, outpatient setting during daytime hours. This program uses a medical model of services, which in some circumstances may be a substitute for nursing home care. Another communitybased program is Community Residential Care/ Assisted Living, in which private homes provide room, board, personal care, and general healthcare supervision, at the veterans expense. Veterans in this program do not require hospital or nursing home care, but because of health conditions, they are not able to live independently and have no suitable support system to provide needed care. All residential care homes are regularly inspected by a multidisciplinary team of VA staff, and veterans in this program receive monthly visits from VA health care professionals who monitor the care provided in the home.

VA Domiciliaries are residential rehabilitation and health maintenance centers for veterans who do not require hospital or nursing home care but are unable to live independently because of medical or psychiatric disabilities. Veterans receive medical and psychiatric care, rehabilitative assistance, and other therapeutic interventions on an outpatient basis from the host hospital, while residing in the structured, therapeutic, homelike environment of the domiciliary. There are specialized, interdisciplinary treatment programs for rehabilitation of head trauma, stroke, mental illness, chronic alcoholism, heart disease, and a wide range of other disabling conditions. For some veterans, domiciliary care can help prepare for return to independent or semi-independent community living.

In the area of geriatric assessment, VA pioneered the concept of the Geriatric Evaluation and Management (GEM) program, which includes inpatient units, outpatient clinics, and consultation services. An interdisciplinary health care team provides comprehensive, multidimensional evaluations for a targeted group of older patients with multiple acute and chronic diseases, functional impairments, and psychosocial problems.

For veterans in need of skilled nursing care and related medical services, there are VA hospitalbased nursing home care units. These units employ an interdisciplinary care approach to meet the multiple physical, social, psychological, and spiritual needs of patients. Many also provide sub-acute and post-acute care.

All VA facilities have a hospice consultation team, which coordinates a hospice and palliative care program of pain management, symptom control, and other medical services to terminally ill veterans, as well as bereavement counseling to their families. In addition, VA provides respite care to relieve spouses or other caregivers from the burden of caring for a chronically disabled veteran at home. Respite is provided for planned, brief periods of care in a variety of settings, including the veterans home, community nursing home, or VA hospital or nursing home.

Veterans with Alzheimers disease or other dementias participate in the full range of VA services, including in-home, community-based, and institutional-based acute and extended care services. In addition, some VA facilities have developed specialized inpatient or outpatient dementia services for diagnosis; management of comorbid medical, emotional, and behavioral problems; or palliative care. Programs for family caregivers of persons with dementia include support groups and caregiver education.

Research in aging

VHA is one of the nations largest research organizations, with a research appropriation from Congress of $316 million in 1999.

A cornerstone of VAs response to its aging imperative is the Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center (GRECC) program, which began in 1975. As centers of excellence in geriatrics, GRECCs mission is to improve the health and care of older veterans through research, training and education, and the development and evaluation of innovative models of care. GRECCs are widely recognized as having provided leadership in geriatrics and gerontology, both within VA and throughout the nation (Goodwin and Morley). In 2000, there were twenty GRECCs across the VA system, each with a specific programmatic focus (e.g., osteoarthritis and osteoporosis; stroke rehabilitation, neurobiology and management of dementia; prostate disease; falls and instability; exercise in frail elderly; end of life care).

VA also funds a wide range of aging-related research, including basic biomedical, applied clinical, rehabilitation, and health services topics, as well as cooperative studies involving multiple VA sites. Aging is one of nine designated research areas used to prioritize VA research funding. In addition to individual investigator awards, VA supports aging research at Health Services Research and Development Centers of Excellence and at Rehabilitation Research and Development Centers. In 1999, VA provided $19.9 million for 150 aging-related research projects. VA investigators received another $33.8 million from non-VA sources to support another 339 aging-related research projects.

Education and training in aging

VA conducts the nations largest coordinated education and training effort for health care professionals, with over 100,000 health profession students receiving clinical training in VA facilities annually, including the GRECCs and other geriatrics and extended care settings described above. VAs creation of a physician fellowship program in geriatric medicine in the 1970s played a significant role in the later recognition of geriatric medicine as a specialty in the United States (Goodwin and Morley). In addition, VA has developed a wide range of other fellowships and specialty training in geriatrics for psychiatrists, dentists, nurses, psychologists, and other associated health professions. VA also pioneered the concept and practice of interdisciplinary team training in geriatrics. In addition to student training, VA also provides aging-related continuing education for professional staff from VA and the community on a regular basis.

New initiatives in aging

In 2000, an area of intense focus within VA was the integration of primary care, geriatrics, and mental health. One initiative is the Unified Psychogeriatric Biopsychosocial Evaluation and Treatment (UPBEAT) project, in which elderly patients with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse in VA medical and surgical hospital settings are evaluated by an interdisciplinary psychogeriatric team and followed by care coordinators on an outpatient basis. Preliminary results indicate cost savings from fewer hospital days for patients managed in this way. A second initiative is the Primary Care Research in Substance Abuse and Mental Health for the Elderly (PRISMe) project, a four year controlled study cosponsored by VA and the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. Eleven sites, including five VA-funded sites, will compare two models for delivering mental health and substance abuse services to older adults in primary care settings: One model uses an integrated team of primary care and mental health/ substance abuse professionals, and the other uses referrals to specialty mental health/substance abuse care. A key question to be examined is under what conditions are integrated or referral models most effective in terms of access, treatment adherence, patient outcomes, and cost. A third initiative in this area is the VAs Primary Care Multidisciplinary Education Committee (PCMEC). In 2000, PCMEC identified over twenty-five innovative and promising models of integrated primary care, mental health, and geriatrics at VA facilities. A variety of educational activities will be developed to evaluate and disseminate best practices from these model programs.

Other innovative projects are underway in the area of dementia care. One is the Chronic Care Networks for Alzheimers Disease (CCN/ AD) project, co-sponsored by the National Chronic Care Consortium and the Alzheimers Association. VAs Upstate New York Healthcare Network (VISN 2) is among seven partnerships of health care organizations and Alzheimers Association chapters that are testing new, integrated approaches to serving persons with dementia and their families through networks of primary, acute, and long-term care. A set of clinical tools has been developed to facilitate dementia diagnosis and care management in the CCN/AD study sites. A second dementia project is Advances in Home-Based Primary Care for End of Life in Advancing Dementia (AHEAD). Begun in 2000, this project will involve approximately fifteen VA HBPC teams using a rapid cycle change process to improve end of life care at home for individuals with dementia.

In 2000, other significant initiatives were underway as part of the implementation of Public Law 106117, the Veterans Millennium Healthcare and Benefits Act, which was passed by Congress in November 1999. This major legislation includes numerous provisions related to VA long-term care services, such as inclusion of certain noninstitutional extended care services in the medical benefits package and specification of priority groups for nursing home care.


As VA enters the new millennium, health care needs of older veterans remain a high priority. Through its early and continued response to a demographic aging imperative, VA has demonstrated leadership in geriatric research, clinical program development, and professional education. VAs health care network structure presents great opportunities for comprehensive, coordinated care and evaluation of innovative service delivery models. Lessons learned from VAs past and future aging initiatives will benefit veterans and their families as well as all older Americans.

Susan G. Cooley Judith A. Salerno

See also Geriatric Medicine; Long-term Care.


Administration on Aging. Resident Population of the United States: Estimates by Age. 2000. Based on 1990 U. S. Census. Available on the World Wide Web at

Cooley, S. G.; Goodwin-Beck, M. E.; and Salerno, J. A. United States Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care for Aging Veterans. In Geriatric Programs and Departments Around the World. Edited by B. Vellas, J. P. Michel, and L. Z. Rubenstein. New York: Springer Publishing Co., 1998. Pages 183198.

Goodwin, M., and Morley, J. E. Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Centers: Their Impact in the Development of American Geriatrics. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 42 (1994): 10121019.

Kizer, K. W. Geriatrics in the VA: Providing Experience for the Nation. Journal of American Medical Association 275, no. 17 (1996): 1303.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Vet Pop 2000. (version 2.07, 30 September 2000) [Data file]. Available on the World Wide Web at

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Veterans Care." Encyclopedia of Aging. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Veterans Care." Encyclopedia of Aging. . (December 10, 2017).

"Veterans Care." Encyclopedia of Aging. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from

Veterans Affairs Department


The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) operates programs to benefit veterans and members of their families. Benefits include compensation payments for disabilities or death related to military service, pensions, education, and rehabilitation. The VA also guarantees home loans, provides burial services for veterans, and operates a medical care program that includes nursing homes, clinics, and medical centers. Located in Washington, D.C., the VA in 2003 had 224,724 employees, a workforce second in size only to the defense department. The department's projected budget for FY 2003 was 459.6 billion.

The Department of Veterans Affairs was established in 1989 as an executive department by the Department of Veterans Affairs Act (38 U.S.C.A. § 201 note). Its establishment came after more than 24 years of effort by members of Congress to elevate the department's predecessor, the Veterans Administration, to cabinet status. Proponents argued that promotion to cabinet level would increase the political accountability of the VA and improve the quality of its services. The Veterans Administration was established as an independent agency by

presidential executive order No. 5398 of July 21, 1930, in accordance with the act of July 3, 1930 (46 Stat. 1016). This act authorized the president to consolidate and coordinate the U.S. Veterans Bureau, the Bureau of Pensions, and the National Home for Volunteer Soldiers.

The Department of Veterans Affairs consists of three organizations that administer veterans' programs: the Veterans Health Administration, the Veterans Benefits Administration, and the National Cemetery System. Each organization has field facilities and a central office. Each central office also includes separate offices that provide support to the organization's operations as well as to VA executives. Central office managers, including the inspector general and general counsel, report to the highest level of department management, which consists of the secretary of veterans affairs and the deputy secretary.

Board of Veterans' Appeals

The Board of Veterans' Appeals (BVA) is responsible, on behalf of the secretary of veterans affairs, for entering the final appellate decisions in claims of entitlement to veterans' benefits. The board is also responsible for deciding matters concerning fees charged by attorneys and agents for representation of veterans before the VA. The mission of the board (contained in 38 U.S.C.A. §§ 7101–7109) is to conduct hearings, consider and dispose of appeals properly before the board in a timely manner, and issue quality decisions in compliance with the law. The board is headed by a chairperson who is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The chairperson is directly responsible to the secretary of veterans affairs. Members of the board are appointed by the secretary with the approval of the president and are under the administrative control and supervision of the chairperson. Each BVA decision is signed by a board member acting as an agent of the secretary. Final BVA decisions can be appealed to the u.s. court of appeals for veterans claims.

Board of Contract Appeals

The Board of Contract Appeals was established on March 1, 1979, pursuant to the Contract Disputes Act of 1978 (41 U.S.C.A. §§ 601–613). The board is a statutory, quasi-judicial tribunal that hears and decides appeals from decisions of contracting officers on claims relating to contracts awarded by the VA or by any other agency when such agency or the administrator for federal procurement policy has designated the board to decide the appeal.

In August 1985 the board's jurisdiction was expanded to include applications for attorneys' fees and expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act, as amended (5 U.S.C.A. § 504 note). Board decisions are final within the VA but may be appealed, either by the government or by the contractor, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Additionally, the chairperson of the board, who is the senior official within the department, is responsible for promoting alternative dispute resolution pursuant to the Administrative Dispute Resolution Act (5 U.S.C.A. § 581 note). Finally, the board is charged with resolving disputes between drug manufacturers and the secretary with regard to provisions of the Veterans Health Care Act of 1992 (38 U.S.C.A. § 101 note) dealing with pharmaceutical pricing agreements.

Health Services

The Veterans Health Administration (formerly the Veterans Health Services and Research Administration) provides hospital, nursing home, and domiciliary care and outpatient medical and dental care to eligible veterans of military service in the armed forces. In 2002 the VA operated 163 hospitals (at least one in each of the 48 contiguous states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia), more than 850 ambulatory care and community-based outpatient clinics, 137 nursing homes, and 73 comprehensive home-care programs, and provided health care to more than 4.5 million people. The administration also provides for similar care under VA auspices in non-VA hospitals and community nursing homes and for visits by veterans to non-VA physicians and dentists for outpatient treatment. Under the Civilian Health and Medical Program, dependents of certain veterans are provided with medical care supplied by non-VA institutions and physicians. The VA medical system serves as a backup to the Defense Department during national emergencies and as a federal support organization in times of major disaster.

The administration conducts both individual medical and healthcare delivery research projects and multi-hospital research programs. It assists in the education of physicians and dentists and in the training of many other health-care professionals through affiliations with educational institutions and organizations. These programs are all conducted as prescribed by the secretary of veterans affairs pursuant to 38 U.S.C.A. §§ 4101–4115 and other statutory authority and regulations.

Veterans Benefits

The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), formerly the Department of Veterans Benefits, conducts an integrated program of veterans' benefits. It provides information, advice, and assistance to veterans, their dependents, beneficiaries, and representatives, and others applying for VA benefits. It also cooperates with the labor department and other federal, state, and local agencies in developing employment opportunities for veterans and referrals for assistance in resolving socioeconomic, housing, and other related problems. In addition, the VBA provides information regarding veterans' benefits to various branches of the armed forces.

Programs are provided through VA regional offices, medical centers, visits to communities, and a special toll-free telephone service. The programs are available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

Compensation and Pension

The Compensation and Pension Service has responsibility for claims for disability compensation and pensions, automobile allowances and special adaptive equipment, claims for specially adapted housing, special clothing allowances, emergency officers' retirement pay, and eligibility determinations based on military service for other VA benefits and services or those of other government agencies. The service also processes survivors' claims for death compensation, dependency, and indemnity compensation, death pensions, burial and plot allowance claims, claims for accrued benefits, claims for adjusted compensation in death cases, and claims for reimbursement for headstones or markers.


The Education Service has responsibility for the Montgomery GI Bill—Active Duty and Selected Reserve, the Post Vietnam Era Veterans' Educational Assistance Program, the Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance Program, and school approvals, compliance surveys, and work study.

Vocational Rehabilitation

The Vocational Rehabilitation Service has responsibility for providing outreach, motivation, evaluation, counseling, training, employment, and other rehabilitation services to disabled veterans. The service also provides evaluation, counseling, and miscellaneous services to veterans and service persons and other VA education programs, as well as to sons, daughters, and spouses of totally and permanently disabled veterans and to surviving orphans, widows, or widowers of certain deceased veterans. Rehabilitation services are provided to certain disabled dependents.

Loan Guaranty

The department has played a major part in the financing of homes since the end of world war ii. Loan guaranty operations include appraising properties to establish their value, supervising the construction of new residential properties, establishing the eligibility of veterans for the program, assessing the ability of a veteran to repay a loan and the associated credit risk, servicing and liquidating defaulted loans, and disposing of real estate acquired as the consequence of defaulted loans.


Life insurance operations are conducted for the benefit of service members and veterans and their beneficiaries. The day-to-day processing of all matters related to individual insurance accounts is handled by a regional office and insurance centers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and St. Paul, Minnesota. These two centers provide the full range of functional activities necessary for a national life insurance program. Activities include the complete maintenance of individual accounts, underwriting functions, and life and death insurance claims awards, as well as other insurance-related transactions.

The agency is also responsible for the administration of the Veterans Mortgage Life Insurance Program for those disabled veterans who receive a VA grant for specially adapted housing. In addition, the agency is responsible for supervising the Servicemen's Group Life Insurance (SGLI) and Veterans Group Life Insurance (VGLI) Programs.

Veterans Assistance

The Veterans Assistance Service provides information, advice, and assistance to veterans, their dependents, beneficiaries, representatives, and others applying for benefits administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. In addition, the Veterans Assistance Service cooperates with the Department of Labor and other federal, state, and local agencies in developing employment opportunities for veterans and referrals for assistance in resolving socioeconomic, housing, and other related problems. The service is responsible for maintaining a benefits protection program (fiduciary activities) for minors and incompetent adult beneficiaries. It also provides field investigative services for other VA components.

The service ensures that schools and training institutions comply with VA directives. It also ensures compliance with Title VI of the civil rights act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. § 2000d), Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C.A. § 1681), section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C.A. § 794), and the age discrimination Act of 1975, as amended (42 U.S.C.A. § 6101).

The service's programs are provided through VA regional offices, VA medical centers, itinerant visits to communities, and a special toll-free telephone service available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

The Veterans Assistance Service also provides information on veterans' benefits to the various branches of the armed forces in the United States and abroad and to veterans residing in foreign countries through U.S. embassies and consular offices. The service also coordinates veterans' activities with foreign governments.

National Cemetery System

The National Cemetery System (NCS) provides services to veterans, active duty personnel, reservists, and national guard members with 20 years' qualifying service and their families by operating national cemeteries and furnishing headstones and markers for graves. The NCS provides presidential memorial certificates to the loved ones of honorably discharged, deceased service members, and veterans. The NCS also awards grants to aid states in developing, improving, and expanding veterans' cemeteries.

The National Cemetery area offices (located in Atlanta, Georgia; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Denver, Colorado) provide direct support to the 114 national cemeteries located throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.

further readings

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Available online at <> (accessed August 16, 2003).

——. 2003. Federal Benefits for Veterans and Dependents. 2d ed. Indianapolis: JIST.

U.S. Government Manual Website. Available online at <> (accessed November 10, 2003).


GI Bill; U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims; Veterans' Rights.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Veterans Affairs Department." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Veterans Affairs Department." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . (December 10, 2017).

"Veterans Affairs Department." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from

Veterans Affairs, Department of


VETERANS AFFAIRS, DEPARTMENT OF. On 3 July 1930, Congress established the Veterans Administration and charged it with handling all matters of disability compensation, pensions, home and educational loan benefits, medical care, and housing for American war veterans. Offices for veterans' affairs prior to 1930 originated in the common colonial practice of supporting those disabled in the defense of the colony. A federal veterans' pension provision was administered by the secretary of war under the supervision of Congress from 1776 to 1819, when the program passed entirely to the War Department. In 1849 it moved to the Interior Department, where it remained until 1930 as the Bureau of Pensions.

In 1866 the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers was founded, with branches around the country for invalid servicemen. After World War I other offices for veterans' compensation, vocational reeducation, and insurance were brought into existence, and were consolidated as the Veterans Bureau in 1921.

After its establishment in 1930, the Veterans Administration expanded rapidly in scope and complexity. It originally served 4.6 million veterans, 3.7 percent of the U.S. population. By 1971 veterans numbered 28.3 million, a sizable 13.7 percent of the citizenry. It was estimated that they had approximately 97.6 million relatives, making 47 percent of the U.S. population actual or potential beneficiaries of the VA.

In 1987 President Ronald Reagan threw his support behind a movement to raise the Veterans Administration, an independent government agency since its creation in 1930, to a cabinet-level department, and in 1988 he signed a bill creating the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).In 1989 the secretary of veterans affairs became the fourteenth member of the president's cabinet. The VA is the second-largest cabinet-level department of the government; only the Department of Defense is larger.

The VA is responsible for administering a wide variety of benefits for military veterans and their dependents, including medical care, insurance, education and training, loans, and guardianship of minors and incompetents. Some 60 percent of the budget goes to compensation and pensions, the former to recompense veterans for the loss of earning power because of injury or disease arising from military service. Pensions recognize an obligation to give aid when necessary for non-service connected disease or death. Some 20 percent of the VA budget goes for medical programs. In 1972 the VA maintained 166 hospitals and 298 other facilities, such as nursing homes and clinics, serving 912,342 inpatients. Health benefits administered by the VA include hospitals, nursing homes, and outpatient medical and dental care. More than half the practicing physicians in the United States received part of their training within the health care system administered by the VA. There is a Prosthetics Assessment and Information Center, and programs include vocational as well as physical rehabilitation.

Within the VA are the Veterans Health Services and Research Administration, the Veterans Benefits Administration, and the National Cemetery System. Their heads and the general counsel for the VA are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The VA oversees military pensions, compensation for disabilities and death, and insurance and loans for veterans. The GI Bill of 1944 provided housing and educational benefits for World War II veterans, and benefits have been continued for veterans of the Korean, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf Wars, all administered by the VA. More than 20 million veterans have received GI Bill benefits for education and job training since the program's inception. Cumulative GI Bill outlays surpass $73 billion.

The Department of Veterans Affairs currently represents the interests of more than 25 million veterans and their dependents in the United States. The VA managed a budget of $49 billion in fiscal year 2001, with $21 billion for health care and $28 billion for benefits.


Daniels, Roger. The Bonus March: An Episode of the Great Depression. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Pub. Co., 1971.

Greenberg, Milton. The GI Bill: The Law that Changed America. New York: Lickle Publishing, 1997.

Whitnah, Donald R., ed. Government Agencies: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Institutions.Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983.

Richard W.Moodey/a. g.

See alsoArmy, United States ; Bonus Army ; Bonuses, Military ; Defense, Department of ; Demobilization ; Pensions, Military and Naval ; Pension Plans ; Soldiers' Home .

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Veterans Affairs, Department of." Dictionary of American History. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Veterans Affairs, Department of." Dictionary of American History. . (December 10, 2017).

"Veterans Affairs, Department of." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from

Veterans Affairs, United States Department of

United States Department of Veterans Affairs, federal executive department established to operate programs to benefit veterans and their families. The department was established in 1989; its predecessor was an independent agency, the Veterans Administration, which had been created in 1930. The department, which is divided into the Veterans Health Administration, the Veterans Benefits Administration, and the National Cemetery System, manages veterans hospitals and clinics and oversees the eligibility and disbursement of disability pensions, veterans' educational assistance programs, vocational rehabilitation for disabled vets, and the mortgage loan guaranty program. In addition the department administers the National Cemetery System, including national cemeteries, headstones, and grants to states for developing cemeteries. After World War II, the VA provided educational benefits to more than seven million vets. Veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars received similar, but less extensive, benefits.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Veterans Affairs, United States Department of." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 10 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Veterans Affairs, United States Department of." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (December 10, 2017).

"Veterans Affairs, United States Department of." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 10, 2017 from