A Brief History of the VA

Eighty-three (83) years ago, on July 21, 1930, President Herbert Hoover signed Executive Order 5398 to officially establish the Veterans Administration and initiated the second consolidation of federal veterans programs in American history.  The executive order was ordered by Congress three weeks earlier, on July 3, 1930 in Public Law 71-536, to consolidate the U.S. Pension Bureau and National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (the first system of federal hospitals-homes for Civil War volunteer soldiers) with the Veterans Bureau.  The Veterans Administration went into full effect on July 1, 1931.

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Photo:  July 21, 1930 EO 5398 post-signing photo, courtesy of Charles M. Griffith, Jr. 

Left to right:  Col. George E. Ijam, acting Veterans Bureau Administrator, later VA Assistant Administrator; Brig. Gen. Frank T. Hines, Administrator of Veterans Affairs; President Herbert Hoover; Col. Louis H. Tripp, Director of Construction; Charles M. Griffith, M.D., Chief Medical Director.

 

The Veterans Bureau, VA’s immediate predecessor, was created nine years earlier, on August 9, 1921, as result of the first consolidation of veterans programs which combined World War I veterans programs–the Bureau of War Risk Insurance (largest insurance “company” in the world at the time), Public Health Service veterans’ hospitals, and the Federal Board of Vocational Education’s rehabilitation division.

 General Frank T. Hines, director of the Veterans Bureau since 1922, continued at the helm of the Veterans Administration when he was sworn in on July 23, 1930; however, his title was changed to Administrator of Veterans Affairs.

VA_1931_ReorgByHines_NYT102236297 The 1930 consolidation that created the Veterans Administration was just one of several mergers of U.S. veterans benefits that took place over the course of American history, for economic or efficiency reasons.  Although the 1930 consolidation intended to bring ALL federal veterans’ program together under one agency, but did not.

1930_July21_EO5398_Veterans Administration established

 Four months later, on November 4, 1930, Executive Order 5476 transferred veterans’ prosthetics and the administration of certain annuities authorized for the discoverers of Yellow Fever’s origins and etiology from the War Department to the Veterans Administration.  During the 1930s Civil War battlefield national cemeteries were transferred from the Army to the Department of Interior and remain under their jurisdiction today. American cemeteries abroad (i.e., Mexico City, France, etc.) have been administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission since 1923 and remain under their jurisdiction today. In 1973, the third consolidation took place when all but two of Army’s national cemeteries (Arlington National Cemetery and the former U.S. Soldiers Home cemetery) were transferred to the VA. 

 

After 58 years in operation, the Veterans Administration was officially abolished in 1988 when President Ronald Reagan elevated the administration to a Cabinet-level Executive Branch department and re-designated it as the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The new department went into full effect on March 15, 1989.  A major reorganization of functions and expansion of leadership took years to complete and resulted in three primary operational administrations for veterans benefits: the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), with origins dating to 1776; National Cemetery Administration, dating to 1862; and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), origins dating to 1865.

 

The Veterans Administration was located at the same building as its immediate predecessors—the Bureau of War Risk Insurance and Veterans Bureau—and is the same building now occupied by the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The base of operations for a majority of Federal veterans benefits have been administered from the same building for nearly 100 years (since 1918).

 Historian, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

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