Fast forward to 1636 and the Plymouth Colony where the Pilgrims were building a new settlement that would grow into the state of Massachusetts some day. The land these folks chose to develop was already inhabited by Native Americans at the time, and they were not particularly pleased with their new neighbors. A small war broke out between the Pilgrims and the Indians which required the service of soldiers. During this war the colony started our pension system for veterans when it passed a law to provide support to any soldier who became disabled due to injuries in defense of the colony.
Colonies began to spring up and became states as the years went by. As we all know, in 1776, the states united and decided it was time to become a nation, but in order to break away from England, the colonials needed a very large army. One of the first incentives offered to prospective soldiers in this endeavor was a pension plan for those who would become disabled in the fighting. Added to this was the promise of land grants for those who joined. The war was won with citizen soldiers; the pension program was now set as a military benefit from that point forward, and virtually all soldiers received land. Land grants continued as part of the incentive until the Civil War.
As the nation settled in, its leaders looked at the needs of not only those who had served, but also their widows and dependants. In the early 1800s medical assistance and a pension were made available to the veterans’ survivors.
The first veterans homes were established shortly after the end of the Civil War. In addition so providing food and shelter, some amount of medical care could also be given to veterans at these homes.
World War I brought on the beginning of a coordinated veterans service by Congress when more benefits such as insurance and vocational rehabilitation were added. These services fell under the authority of the Veterans Bureau, Bureau of Pensions of the Interior Department and the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers for several years until 1930.
In 1930, the world for veterans as they knew it began to change. Congress authorized the three bureaus to consolidate into one which would be known as the Veterans Administration.
The VA immediately began to build more hospitals and clinics to expand the range of services it could provide and to reach more veterans in need. This need was to become more than they could imagine in just a few years.
World War II was the largest increase in veterans in U.S. history. Fortunately, the VA was in position and ready to handle the need. New benefits were added for the veterans by Congress which would now include the GI Bill. This bill added educational assistance, housing assistance, improved medical benefits and was said to have had more impact on the American way of life than any law since the Homestead Act of 1862. Interestingly enough, this historic bill was originally handwritten by the commander of the American Legion at the time, and passed through Congress due to the heavy support from the Legion membership.
The VA continues to upgrade and expand the services offered to veterans as the needs change for returning veterans. Its hospitals, clinics, and offices are staffed by dedicated professionals and volunteers who are there to help the veterans of the community. Many of these people are veterans themselves and have a good understanding of these needs.
Thank you Gary, Fred and all the others at the Trinka Davis Clinic who are working with our veterans to ensure their needs are met.
Robinson, Vietnam veteran and member of American Legion Post 143, writes a weekly column for the Times-Georgian on veterans issues.