Veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs
From The Celebrating Americas Freedoms Series
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides benefits to U.S. military veterans and their families. Right now there are 26.2 million veterans of the U.S. armed services. They served their country in one of the military branches (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard) or in one of many smaller groups that supported the military services, primarily during World War II.
Over many years the United States has passed laws that guarantee services or monetary aid programs to repay veterans for their sacrifices. Including their family members, about one-third of Americans (70 million people) are eligible for VA benefits.
The benefits include: medical care, payments to compensate for disabilities suffered during military service, rehabilitation and employment assistance, pensions to low-income disabled veterans, guarantees on loans to help veterans buy homes, financial aid to help them attend school, burial in a national cemetery and special headstones or markers for their gravesites.
Slightly less than half of all Americans who ever served during wartime in our countrys history are alive today, and nearly 80 percent of todays veterans served during a war. There are widows and children of veterans of the Civil War and the Indian War of the last century who still receive VA benefits. The largest group of veterans fought in World War II.
Medical Costs, Direct Payments Comprise Budget
In 1995 VA spent $38 billion. About half of that amount goes for direct payments such as disability compensation, pension and education assistance. Most of the rest of the spending is for medical care.
VA became a department of the Presidents Cabinet in 1989 and previously (since 1930) was called the Veterans Administration. The Veterans Administration had its origins in earlier federal agencies that had separate areas of responsibility for veterans benefits. In the early 1800s, the federal government first assumed responsibility from the states for pensions to disabled veterans and their families, creating the Bureau of Pensions under the Secretary of War.
Nation's Largest Medical System
VA has the federal governments second largest civilian work force, with nearly 264,000 employees. VA operates facilities in all 50 states, as well Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Washington, D.C. It owns more than 4,000 buildings and 27,000 acres of land. The department operates the nations largest medical system, with 173 hospitals, more than 399 outpatient and community clinics, 132 nursing-home units and 39 residential facilities. It operates 114 national cemeteries, although 57 of them have reached capacity for casketed burials.
VA medical centers are affiliated with more than 152 medical and dental schools, and more than half of U.S. practicing physicians have received training in VA hospitals. VA is a leader in studies and treatment of medical conditions affecting older people and has pioneered in developing prosthetic devices to replace destroyed limbs and other parts of the body. It is an internationally recognized leader in treatment of spinal cord injury, mental illness and alcoholism. VA researchers are investigating treatments for AIDS, Alzheimers, diabetes and many other diseases. VA operates 203 Vet Centers that counsel veterans of the Vietnam War and more recent wars.