VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System
As VA employees, our mission is to care for those who have served in the military. What an honor this is!!!!! None of this is possible without you, the VA employee.
These are the values that lie at the heart of our mission.
Our dedication to serving the veteran goes back more than a century. As we look at this dedication and these values, it helps for us to understand how the signing of the United States Constitution played an important role in planting the seeds related to the care of veterans.
The idea for the U.S. Constitution originated in the 1600’s when a group of colonies, lead by Great Britain, united to defend the colonies from France’s intention to rule them. In 1763, Great Britain prevailed and then began to look for ways to finance their acquisition. Taxation was the method and this is when the slogan “taxation without representation” was heard. The colonists revolted against the British and the American Revolution began.
In 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence to create a new nation from these colonies. For most of the period of the American Revolution, the Articles of Confederation governed the colonies.
After eight years of fighting, the colonists defeated Great Britain and it was soon determined that the Articles of Confederation were not sufficient.
In 1787, the Constitutional Convention was convened and by September 1787, the U.S. Constitution was compiled. The U.S. Constitution established a system of checks and balances to create separate powers so that no one entity had too much power. It also established a distributed power between the national and state governments.
Soon after the U.S. Constitution was ratified, ten amendments were added; these are called the Bill of Rights. These are the amendments that give us such rights as the right to freedom of speech, the right to due process, and the right to protect us from unreasonable search and seizure.
Article #1 of the U.S. Constitution established the legislative branch of the government. This branch grants Congress power to pass laws and fund the government.
Article #2 of the U.S. Constitution established the executive branch of the government. This branch establishes the presidency and allows for the execution of the laws that Congress has passed. It also established the President as the Commander in Chief of the military.
Article #3 of the U.S. Constitution established the judicial branch of the government. This branch established the U.S. Supreme Court and the lower courts.
These three branches – the legislative, the executive, and the judicial – have to work together to assure a system of checks and balances.
One example of this system of checks and balances is that only Congress can declare and fund a war; however, it is the President who serves as the Commander in Chief of the military and is therefore in charge of fighting the war.
This example of declaring, funding, and fighting a war is where the connection lies between the branches of the government (created by the U.S. Constitution) and the VA. Let’s look at this more in depth.
The President is the head of the executive branch. As such, he is responsible for implementing laws and policies. The most prominent part of the executive branch is the President’s Cabinet, consisting of 14 departments. One of those departments is the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Department of Veterans Affairs was established as a Cabinet-level department in 1989. However, the history of caring for veterans goes back to the 19th century.
From the time of the Constitutional Convention until the 1850’s, the government limited the benefits that veterans received to pensions and grants for soldiers disabled in battle.
By the end of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln planted the seed for what would become the Department of Veterans Affairs.
…to care for him who shall have born the battle and for his
widow and his orphan…..
At this time, Congress established national asylums for disabled volunteer soldiers. By 1890, the Dependent Pension Act was passed to provide pension benefits to one million veterans.
After World War I, disabled veterans became eligible for pensions and vocational training; however, the rest of veterans only received a ticket home. Veterans groups lobbied Congress to pay bonuses to over 4 million soldiers who served in World War I. In 1924, Congress responded by passing the Adjusted Service Credit but delayed payment for 20 years.
In 1930 – 65 years after Abraham Lincoln first requested help for veterans – President Herbert Hoover created the Veterans Administration.
Fifteen plus years later, with 16 million veterans having served in World War II, it was determined that a new system of veteran care was needed. In 1944, the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act – the GI Bill of Rights – was signed into law by Franklin Roosevelt. Let’s look at that Act a little closer.
The Serviceman’s Readjustment Act established an extensive package of benefits for the GI’s and their families to help them adjust and thrive in post-war America. The VA helped to administer these programs and took on a new look……a look we still have to this day.
Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs has three entities:
- Veterans Benefit Administration which deals with disability and death compensation; pension benefits; loan guaranties for home buyers; educational assistance; life insurance; vocational rehabilitation; and employment services for disabled veterans
- Veterans Health Administration which provides medical care to eligible veterans in medical centers and other sites and provides medical training programs
- National Cemetery Administration which maintains over 100 national cemeteries
These benefits mean so much to the veterans.
So it is easy to see that what started out back in the 1600’s as the seeds of the U.S. Constitution has served as the basis for our government and the basis of our care of veterans.