Long before the United States was a country, colonists pledged to care for disabled veterans, passing a law in 1636 that soldiers who fought in the war against the Pequot Indians would be supported by the colony. Today, with the Department of Veteran Affairs, the U.S. government does more for its veterans than any other country.
This early commitment to the well-being of soldiers continued through the early days of the country when Revolutionary War enlistments were boosted with the promise of pensions, and medical care was provided by states and communities in the early decades of the country’s existence. Throughout the 19th century, care homes and medical facilities for veterans were made available to former soldiers from various wars and conflicts, with the post-Civil War period, in particular, prompting the creation of many state homes for veterans.
With the U.S. entry into World War I in 1917, various benefits were introduced by Congress, such as vocational rehabilitation and compensation for disabled veterans. In 1921, all the federal programs for veterans were consolidated into the Veterans Bureau. A large hospital construction project for veterans was begun as many had been exposed to toxins in the war, including mustard gas, and required long-term care.
Initially, these benefits were only for service-related disabilities and were available only to men in the main branches of the armed services. However, starting in 1924, disabilities unrelated to service were covered, and coverage for women and veterans of the National Guard and militia began in 1928. In 1930, on an Executive Order from President Herbert Hoover, the Veterans Bureau became the Veterans Administration, now a federal administration.
Congress reacted to the enormous growth in veterans after World War II by greatly expanding the benefits available, including the creation of the GI Bill. This included access to home loans and unemployment benefits. VA hospitals expanded rapidly in the 1940s, much as they had after WWI, bringing in top medical talent, and today there are hundreds throughout the country.
President Ronald Reagan made the VA a cabinet-level executive department in the late 1980s. At that time, the name was changed from the Veterans Administration to the Department of Veterans Affairs, although to this day, it is still known as the VA.