VA History Time Line
•1636 – From the beginning, the English colonies in North America paid money to soldiers who got hurt. When Plymouth Colony passed a law that provided lifetime support for any soldier who returned home from battle with an injury, other colonies followed Plymouth’s example.
•1776 – The nation’s first pension law for disabled veterans was created as the Continental Congress was looking for ways to recruit more soldiers and discourage desertions. But because the Continental Congress did not have the money to pay those pensions, only 3,000 veterans were able to ever receive any money.
•1789 – The Continental Congress passed a national pension law for soldiers who fought in the American Revolution. Later on, by the early 1800s, more laws were created to pay pensions not only to the veterans of the War of 1812, but also to their families. Because the number of veterans kept increasing and so did the cost of things like food and housing, Congress had to raise allowances for all disabled veterans and pay pensions to their widows and orphans.
•1812 – The Naval Home was established in Philadelphia. This was the first national effort to provide medical care for disabled veterans. The two facilities in Washington, DC – the Soldiers’ Home in 1853 and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in 1855 followed the Naval Home.
•1818 – A new concept for Veterans Benefits was introduced:
the 1818 Service Pension Law made sure that all persons who had served in the War for Independence and were in need for assistance would receive a pension for life. Before 1818 only disabled veterans were given such pensions. This greatly increased the number of veterans who received pensions.
•1861 – Civil War broke out - Union veterans of the Civil War increased the national veteran population from 80,000 to 2 million!
•1862 – The General Pension Law was created to pay for military service in time of peace as well as during the Civil War. In the same year Union veterans were given land for their service. Also in 1862 President Lincoln established the first national cemeteries to provide burial for the many Union dead of the Civil War. Between 1865 and 1870, the Army opened 70 national cemeteries. In 1873 Congress allowed national cemetery burial for all honorably discharged Union veterans.
•1865 – The National Home for volunteer soldiers was established for disabled Civil War veterans. In his second inaugural speech of 1865, President Lincoln called upon Congress “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” This was later adopted as the VA’s motto.
•1912 – The first important pension law in the 20th century was the Sherwood Act of 1912, which awarded pensions to all veterans. Under this law, veterans of the Mexican War and Civil War could start receiving pensions when they turned 62, regardless of whether they were sick or disabled.
•1919 – US Government Life Insurance Program was founded. Because of the dangers of military service, it was difficult for the servicemen to get life insurance from commercial companies. The Government Life Insurance Program made life insurance affordable to US veterans. Along with this program came other benefits such as rehabilitation and vocational training, i.e., to train disabled veterans to help them support themselves and find better jobs.
•1930 – President Hoover signed a bill, which established the Veterans Administration (VA). From then on, veterans have been getting their medical, and many other benefits from this agency.
•1940 – With World War II on the horizon, Congress created a law called the Selective Training and Service Act to help veterans find employment when they return from war. This law guaranteed re-employment for those returning home. It meant that if a person had a certain job before going to war, that job was guaranteed to be given back to him upon his return.
•1944 – The GI Bill of Rights was passed. During World War II more than 400,000 US service members were killed and 700,000 were wounded, leaving hundreds of thousands of dependents in need. It was very important to help veterans and their families return to civilian life. Signed into law by President Roosevelt on June 22, 1944, the GI Bill of Rights dramatically transformed the concept of veteran’s benefits. Under the GI Bill, VA started paying for veterans’ education and training and helped them with a monthly allowance. In addition, it allowed veterans to get loans for buying a house, or a farm, or starting their own business. The country also began providing financial assistance to unemployed veterans. The GI Bill transformed the economy and society of the United States. The dreams of higher education and home ownership came true for millions of veterans and their families.
•1946 – Department of Medicine and Surgery was formed in VA. As Major General Paul Hawley began to lead VA medicine, he brought about some great changes, which improved the quality of medical care for the veterans. Hawley led the formation of a separate department of medicine for veterans with disabilities not related to military service. In the same year VA medical research and education programs were started. Since then VA medical research has benefited not only veterans, but also it has advanced medical treatment for the entire country. More hospitals were built, and VA was able to care for more patients. VA Voluntary Service was established.
•1973 – Congress transferred 82 national cemeteries from the Army to VA. Together with 21 veterans’ cemeteries at VA hospitals, these 103 National Cemeteries became the National Cemetery System. VA makes sure that veterans and family members have a respectful burial place forever.
•1979 – VA opened Vietnam Veteran Outreach Centers.
•1982 – VA became the largest backup to the Department of Defense. In fact, VA is second in size only to the Defense Department among all federal agencies.
•1988 – Congress upgraded VA from an independent agency to a Cabinet Department (became effective March 15, 1989).
•1995 – Four health care regions became 22 Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs). There are now 21 VISNs since two of them were combined together.
•1998 – VA created Veterans Health Care Eligibility and Enrollment Reform allowing all eligible veterans to enroll and be cared for in VA’s health care system.