In 1946, VA Voluntary Service was established as part of General Omar Bradley’s modernization of the Veterans Administration.Posted: June 7, 2017
In June 1945, less than two months after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death and Harry S. Truman assumed the presidency, he selected fellow Missourian General Omar Bradley to head the Veterans Administration. Bradley was confirmed and took his place at VA in August of that year. Bradley was charged with modernizing VA and he wasted no time in doing so. He established a national chaplain service in November and after getting congressional approval to create a professional Department of Medicine and Surgery in January 1946, set out establish other vital services to improve care for veterans. The Army had a long and successful record of working with volunteers and social organizations, and he knew that VA could benefit from coordinating volunteers at a national level, too.
The roots of large-scale volunteerism began during the Civil War. Men, women, and children in both the Confederate and Union territories who could not fight in the war, volunteered to do anything needed to help soldiers and the war effort. In June 1861 President Lincoln authorized the U.S. Sanitary Commission, an entirely volunteer group from New York, to help the Union Army medical department and legions of short-term “volunteer” soldiers that were enlisting to fight in the war. Local branches were established in many cities and “sanitary fairs” were held to raise money that bought ambulances, hospital ships, medical supplies, and personal items for wounded and convalescing soldiers. These volunteers documented burial locations for soldiers who died from their wounds, wrote letters to families, read to soldiers, and much more to comfort them or their families.
The U.S. Sanitary Commission was the largest national volunteer organization in American history at the time, igniting passions for those fighting the war and attracting thousands of volunteers like poet Walt Whitman, Clara Barton, and Frederick Law Olmsted to help them. Service with the U.S. Sanitary Commission inspired many of its volunteers to continue the work after the war, resulting in numerous new social and veterans fraternal organizations. The Grand Army of the Republic and American Red Cross are examples of Sanitary Commission spin-offs that were established after the war to provide services not only to veterans, but to their widows, families, and orphans, as well as immigrants and the poor. The U.S. Sanitary Commission played an essential role in proving the need for “soldiers homes” after the war that resulted in the establishment of the first federal institution in the world solely for disabled veterans of the “volunteer” forces in 1865. That institution, initially known as the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, was the origins of what today is known as VA’s Veterans Health Administration.
The passion for disabled soldiers and veterans, which sprang to life on a massive and national scale during the Civil War, became a new part of the American ethos, after the war, and VA and its predecessors were beneficiaries of that good will. During World War I, the Treasury Department was tasked with providing medical care to World War I disabled veterans, through its Bureau of War Risk Insurance(BWRI) and Public Health Service (PHS). Surgeon General Rupert Blue asked the American Red Cross for help and their volunteers supplied a significant auxiliary workforce that ranged from filing clerks to nurses and social workers. The Red Cross provided the first organized coordination of volunteer services in federal veterans programs, but as the Veterans Bureau, and later the Veterans Administration, took over roles once done by the Red Cross, much of that was lost.
As the U.S. geared up to fight yet another war in 1941, volunteer organizations once again came to the aid of service men and women and VA. General Bradley knew very well the important role that volunteers played in maintaining morale and hope in his troops during the war and that they could do the same for them as veterans. Bradley established a Special Services Division in 1946, just like Army had, which included a chaplain service, voluntary service coordination (VAVS), recreation service, and canteen service. Establishing a national office with experienced staff to meet with leaders of volunteer and veterans organizations was a common-sense move that has seen VA’s volunteer program grow, professionally, over the past 70 years into one of the largest, most experienced, and respected corps of volunteers in the federal government.
While VAVS celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, it continues the work with veterans that began 155 years ago, and has found its own place in American history. I dare say that the men and women of the U.S. Sanitary Commission would be most proud of their modern brothers and sisters caring for this generation of veterans.
Today we laid my 2nd husband to rest. It was a emotional time for me. So many things felt. It’s no secret that he had hurt us. Before the hurt there was friendship and love though. Who ever said there is a fine line between love and hate truly knew what they were talking about in this instance. I cried today for the man I once knew, that friend who once cared, the soldier who who served us all.Once again I received a flag with the thanks of our President and Nation for service. Once again I jumped at the first shots fired as the salute was led, just like I did when I said good bye to my Dad. The tears ran down my face wile my hand covered my heart as the bugler sounded taps . The young Soldier could feel my hands tremble as he placed our flag in my hands and knelt giving sympathy with his words and eyes as I sat alone.
In this moment I couldn’t tell you that the thoughts going through my head are totally clear. I can say I said my good byes and cried the tears I needed too. Not only did I say good bye but I also let go of pent up pains and hurt.
I forgave a long time ago , but held on to the hurt. Not something I recommend any one do.
Today I say a prayer for the other separated widows like me. May they find peace as they move forward with their lives. May God wrap them in his love and guide them and me to be more like him. Amen.
By Paul Zolbrod, MAMF Writer-in-Residence
“How’re you doing?” I asked a fellow vet at the V.A. clinic this afternoon. He was on his way out, I on my way in. Like me he was hobbling with a cane, although he gripped his with his left hand, I mine with my right. He wore a brace over his right wrist, I mine on my left.
Once I greeted him at the far curb of the parking lot in front of the entrance, he stopped, looked me over, saw the same resemblance I had spotted, and smiled. “Not so bad, brother,” he said. “Under the circumstances.” We both leaned on our canes and rested before going our separate ways, ready to chat for a minute or so. As a rule it works that way; guys are always willing to connect–especially the older ones, the Vietnam vets, the Korean vets. There aren’t many WWII guys left, although those who can still get in and out on their own like to schmooze too.
“What’s wrong with you?” I asked.
“Everything,” he replied, looking at his feet and cupping one knee, then looking back at me, still smiling. “Knees. Both feet numb. Shoulders all stiff. What about you?”
“Everything except one,” I laughed.” I’ve had one knee replaced, the other’s still pretty good.” I looked him over again. He was maybe two or three inches shorter than me, but a little rounder and wider around the waist. Hair about as grey as mine, his face about as wrinkled or a little less. “How old are you I asked?”
“Seventy three,” he answered, which made him Vietnam. “You?”
“Eighty-three,” I said. “Korean War.”
“Aw, c’mon,” he replied. “You don’t look it.”
“That’s because you guys had it rougher,” I said, still laughing. “Folks hated you, they only forgot about us.”
And so it went for a few more minutes–light-hearted talk, easy-going chatter, even when the matter was fundamentally serious. He told me about his sessions in the heated pool for his shoulders, me about the exercises I was doing for mine under supervision up in physical therapy, the mutual concern genuine, the well-wishing sincere. Then we shook hands and bid each other happy Easter, he heading for his vehicle, I going inside to check at Orthotics to see if the special shoes had come in yet custom made for my messed up feet. Infantry feet they call it up in that department.
That’s the way it is at the clinic–perhaps my favorite place in Albuquerque. I like to say I’m lucky to get such good care; everybody deserves that kind of health care, I like to say, where we’re treated with dignity, there’s very little paper work, and nobody talks about money. But I’m luckier still to enjoy that kind of fellowship. Nowhere else that I know of do people get along so well. You have to be one of us to understand.
I recommend visiting a VA hospital. You’ll see guys going in and out with canes, on crutches, in wheel chairs, carrying oxygen tanks. Some of us move slowly. Some have to be pushed. Some have to lean on a wife or a son or daughter. Some of us are old like me and some older, some so young I want to cry for them. But boy do we get along. We make eye contact. We smile. We joke and tease. Folks need to see for themselves how well men can get along. It’s that way with the women vets, too. Those differences disappear as well.
There’s a great lesson to be learned at a VA hospital. No matter how bad I may be feeling as I set out for the clinic, I feel better once I’m inside, which is pretty often now, thanks to the company I get to keep.
In 1890, VHA’s predecessor–the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers–hired its first women nurses at the Northwestern Branch in Milwaukee (known today as the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center).
Able-bodied men who were residents of the National Homes served as wardmasters, nurses, and assistant nurses prior to 1890. An 1880 National Home board of managers report recommended that two wardmasters be paid $15 per month and have supervision of all wards–day and night–under supervision of the post surgeons. “These men should be strictly temperate, skillful, good-dispositioned, intelligent, and faithful. The other nurses should be divided into two classes, viz, nurses and assistant nurses. The nurses should have $8 per month for the first year, $10 per month for the second year, and $12 per month thereafter. The assistants should have $6 per month for the first six months, $7 per month for the second six months, and $8 per month thereafter.” The National Home veteran population was approaching old age by 1900, so a solution to replace them as nurses was sought.
The nursing profession in America was in its infancy after the Civil War. Hundreds of women had served as nurses during the war, but most had no formal training. The first nursing school in America opened at Bellevue Hospital in New York in 1873 and taught Florence Nightingale’s philosophy and practices of nursing care. New nursing schools opened up across the country afterwards. Read the rest of this entry »
“SHOUT: Sharing Our Truth: An Anthology of Writings by LGBT Veterans and Family Members of the U.S. Military Services”Posted: May 1, 2016
MAMF Special Projects Writer Caroline LeBlanc is seeking stories for:
“SHOUT: Sharing Our Truth: An Anthology of Writings by LGBT Veterans and Family Members of the U.S. Military Services”
This anthology seeks first-hand experiences—good, bad, and in between—as an LGBT veteran or family member, during and/or after military service. Our goal is to create a book that will allow you to tell parts of your story that will also be helpful for others to read—others who live or want to understand the LGBT veteran experience. The last chapter of the book will list resources available to LGBT veterans.
Do not submit any materials previously published in print or online. Identifying information should be included in the body of the email only.
What Genres to Submit:
Fiction: up to 1200 words.
Non-Fiction (memoir, essays, and other non-fiction): up to 1200 words
Poetry: up to 40 lines.
Reviews: up to 1200 words about a movie, book, music, etc. that you think are important for others to know about.
Resources: submit information on resources you have found particularly helpful. (Name, webpage, telephone number, and services)
You may submit up to 2 pieces in each genre. Each piece must be attached in a separate file. All pieces in a given category must be submitted in the same email. Pieces in separate categories must be submitted in separate emails.
Submissions are accepted between March 20 and June 20, 2016. For more information or for guidelines on how to submit, please visit:
April marks both the birth and death anniversaries for VA’s longest tenured leader—General Frank T. Hines. He was born on April 11, 1879 and died on April 3, 1960.
Frank T. Hines was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and during his second year at the Agricultural College of Utah, in Logan, he enlisted in the 1st Utah Volunteer Artillery. He served with distinction in the Philippines during the Spanish American War and, after the war, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the artillery corps of the Regular Army. In 1904 he was promoted to First Lieutenant and in 1908 was a Captain in the Coast Artillery Corps. In 1912 he was detailed to the Quartermaster Corps.
During World War I was promoted to Major and detailed to the General Staff. In February 1918 he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. President Woodrow Wilson nominated him as a Brigadier General in April 1918 and placed him in charge as Chief of Embarkation Services for the Army. He received the Distinguished Service Medals from both the Army and Navy for his proficient work during World War I. Read the rest of this entry »
The use of poisonous gasses proliferated during World War I with nearly one-third of the troops being exposed to them. We tend to think of only soldiers being exposed, but some nurses were, too. Harry Belle Durant Stark, an Army nurse, was one of the few known women to have been exposed to mustard gas during World War I.
Harry Belle Durant was born in Florida around 1891 and grew up in Alabama. She graduated from the Saint Vincent’s Hospital School of Nursing in Birmingham in 1911. She became a Red Cross nurse, serving first with the Mexican Border Service, before becoming part of the Army Nurses Corps during World War I. She was stationed at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, from August 1916 to March 1917, before being assigned to Base Hospital No. 24 in Pittsburgh. She sailed for overseas war service in Europe on February 16, 1918 and was transferred to Evacuation Hospital No. 6 in France on July 22, 1918, where she served as Assistant Chief Nurse. Evacuation hospitals received patients directly from the front lines. She was exposed to mustard gas while working in the evacuation hospital and later returned to the U.S. in February 1919.
After the war she married Gustave Frederick Stark and started a family, but the effects from being gassed took a toll on her. At this time we know very little about her exposure, but everyone developed symptoms of some kind. In 1926 she was admitted to the Veterans Bureau hospital known as Castle Point in New York. After 1930 the Veterans Bureau became the Veterans Administration.
The prognosis for gassed soldiers and nurses was often grim, but varied, and was dependent on where on the body they were exposed, for how long, under what circumstances, and many other factors. Mustard gas could blister the eyes and skin, strip the lung’s mucous membrane, cause nausea and vomiting, and much more. Many veterans suffered from lung damage and ended up in tuberculosis hospitals. Some suffered brain damage and were admitted to psychiatric hospitals or committed suicide, and some, like Harry Belle Stark, never recovered the vigor of life. Numerous veterans who were gassed during the war spent years of their lives in veterans hospitals.
Harry Belle Durant Stark spent nearly 12 years of her life in the Castle Point veterans hospital and died on April 17, 1937. At the time, she had been in that hospital longer than anyone else ever had. She was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. We remember her service and sacrifice.
Photos: top right – Harrybelle Durant, around 1915, blog.genealogybank.com; left – Harrybelle Durant Stark, around 1918, familysearch.com
From: VA Historian