VA History: The Department of Veterans Affairs ActPosted: October 25, 2014
Story from the Historian, Department of Veteran’s AffairsOn October 25, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed Public Law 100-527 , known as the Department of Veterans Affairs Act, to elevate the Veterans Administration to a Cabinet-level Executive Branch department within the Federal government. Efforts to elevate the Veterans Administration began more than 10 years earlier and came to fruition with the aid of Army veterans, Senator Strom Thurmond and Congressman “Sonny” Montgomery, and Marine veteran, Congressman Gerald Solomon. According to the 1988 law, the elevation went into full effect on March 15, 1989.
The transformation of VA from an administration to a full-fledged Department began immediately and involved complex restructuring that took many years to implement. One of the first actions taken was development of a new official seal to reflect VA’s elevated status. In November 1988 VA announced a nationwide employee contest for a new seal design. Nearly 200 designs were submitted with the winning design made by Indianapolis VAMC employee, David Gregory. Other immediate changes included renaming of internal departments, creation of new offices and executive positions, including Secretary, Assistant Secretaries, Deputy Assistant Secretaries, and others that required appointments by the President and confirmation by the Senate. New Reporting requirements and responsibilities were added or greatly expanded and new flags and signs were designed.
Edward J. Derwinski (photo, left) was appointed as the first VA Secretary prior to the Department of Veterans Affairs Act taking full effect on March 15, 1989. Secretary Derwinski made the decision to retain the use of “VA” as identifier for the new department, instead of “DVA,” because for nearly 60 years the public, especially veterans, recognized “VA” as the icon representing the government’s veterans’ programs.
The 1988-89 elevation of VA was the latest step in the evolution of U.S. veterans’ benefits that began in August 1776 under the Second Continental Congress.