SHAPING TODAY’S VA
Of the 2 million U.S. troops sent to Europe during World War I, more than 100,000 died, and 200,000 were wounded. When the soldiers returned, they had a new system for veterans benefits.
The U.S. has given benefits to those who have served in the Armed Forces since the colonial days. But as the nation amassed 2 million troops to send to Europe in
1917, Congress established a new system of veterans benefits. The plans for World War I veterans included programs for disability compensation, insurance for service personnel and veterans and vocational rehabilitaion for the disabled.
In 1919, the American Legion was chartered by Congress as a patriotic veterans organization. The American Legion’s efforts in the 1920s resulted in the creation of the U.S. Veterans Bureau, the forerunner of the Department of Veterans Affairs we have today. The VA is the second largest federal agency, behind the Department o Defense, with more than 200,000 employees.
The mission statement of today’s VA is to fulfill President Abraham Lincoln’s promise: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.” In 2016, there were around 20.4 million U.S. veterans representing less than 10 percent of the total U.S. adult population.
The number of people on active duty has dropped significantly from the draft era of the 1960s. There were 3.5 million on active duty in 1968, and about 1.3 million active duty service members today. There are also about 800,000 reserve forces in the Deparmtne of Defense. In 2016, women made up about 9 percent of veterans, and the VA expects that number to double in 2045.
U.S. soldiers in France celebrating the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918.