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February 27, 2020

WHY VA? The History of VA and its Legacy of “Serving Those Who Served”

Last updated on December 21, 2022

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Why VA? Did you know that the roots of today’s VA stem from the seeds planted by some of the first settlers and English colonies in North America?

It’s true!

In this post, Brian Reese, Founder of VA Claims Insider will explain “WHY VA” by examining its storied history of “Serving Those Who Served.”

Why VA: A Brief History

In 1636, an early Plymouth Colony law provided pensions for soldiers wounded in battle.

140 years later, shortly after the start of the Revolutionary War in 1776, the Second Continental Congress passed the nation’s first pension law to encourage enlistments and reduce desertions.

Next, during the Civil War, came The General Pension Act of 1862.

The act provided disability payments to Union soldiers based on their degree of disability, which included compensation for diseases or injuries incurred in-service.

It marked the first time that a law covered disability compensation benefits.

It also recognized and included disabilities from both peacetime and wartime military service.

Why VA?
Wounded soldiers outside a hospital in Fredericksburg, Virginia, 1864. (Credit: James Gardner/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)

While progress during this period included better care and benefits to Veterans and their families, federal Veterans programs still lacked a unified and governing body to oversee and standardize operations to help the millions of dead, wounded, or sick following the Civil War.

This need led to The Consolidation Act in 1873; however, the first real consolidation efforts of federal Veterans programs didn’t take place until August 9, 1921, when Congress combined all World War I Veterans programs and created the “Veterans Bureau.”

The second consolidation of federal Veterans programs occurred on July 21, 1930, when President Herbert Hoover signed Executive Order 5398 and elevated the Veterans Bureau to a federal administration—creating the Veterans Administration—to “consolidate and coordinate Government activities affecting war veterans.”

The VA finally became a cabinet-level executive department by President Ronald Reagan, which took effect on March 15, 1989.

President George H. W. 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.”

While today’s VA is a compilation of our diverse and storied past, its Mission to care for veterans and their families can be traced back to President Abraham Lincoln.

The VA’s Mission: Fulfilling President Lincoln’s Promise to Care For and Honor America’s Veterans

As the country braced itself for the final throes of the Civil War, thousands of spectators gathered during the dark, rainy, and muddy day near the U.S. Capitol to hear President Lincoln’s second inaugural address.

It was March 4, 1865, a time of sadness and great uneasiness among a wary and divided nation.

Abraham Lincolns delivering his second inaugural address standing center on the east portico of the U.S. Capitol March 4 1865 his second inauguration. scaled
President Abraham Lincoln delivering his second inaugural address (standing, center) on the east portico of the U.S. Capitol, March 4, 1865. (Credit: Shutterstock images used with permission)

At just 701 words, the third shortest presidential inaugural address in American history, President Lincoln needed only seven minutes to deliver some of the memorable phrases ever recorded.

In the speech’s final paragraph, President Lincoln shifted the solemn tone of the reasons for war (slavery) to help create a new vision for America, even calling for unity, healing, and reconciliation:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

– President Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1865

And with that final phrase, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan,” President Lincoln affirmed the government’s obligation to care for veterans and their families.

The VA’s Mission Statement

Those immortal words spoken by President Lincoln became the VA’s Mission Statement in 1959.

And his words have stood the test of time and stand today as a reminder of why VA’s commitment to caring for those injured in our nation’s defense and the families of those injured or killed in-service.

From the first English colonies in North America to President Lincoln’s call to care for and serve veterans and their families, today’s VA is the federal agency responsible for serving the needs of veterans and their families by providing health care, VA disability compensation and rehabilitation, education assistance, home loans, and national cemetery services, among others.

As we stand in the present and look toward the future, let us always remember our storied past, to all who have served or are serving, and all those who fulfill Lincoln’s promise to serve and honor America’s Veterans!

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About the Author

Brian Reese
Brian Reese

Brian Reese

Brian Reese is one of the top VA disability benefits experts in the world and bestselling author of You Deserve It: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Veteran Benefits You’ve Earned (Second Edition).

Brian’s frustration with the VA claim process led him to create VA Claims Insider, which provides disabled veterans with tips, strategies, and lessons learned to win their VA disability compensation claim, faster, even if they’ve already filed, been denied, gave up, or don’t know where to start. 

As the founder of VA Claims Insider and CEO of Military Disability Made Easy, he has helped serve more than 10 million military members and veterans since 2013 through free online educational resources.

He is a former active duty Air Force officer with extensive experience leading hundreds of individuals and multi-functional teams in challenging international environments, including a combat tour to Afghanistan in 2011 supporting Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.

Brian is a Distinguished Graduate of Management from the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, CO, and he holds an MBA from Oklahoma State University’s Spears School of Business, Stillwater, OK, where he was a National Honor Scholar (Top 1% of Graduate School class).

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