In 1946, VA Voluntary Service was established as part of General Omar Bradley’s modernization of the Veterans Administration.

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.image001

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.

1919_06_17_Red Cross to help find beneficiaries_TheSpokesman-Reviewp4 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.

VA Historian

 

 

 


VA History Tidbit – Joseph H. Freedlander, Architect – Beaux Arts architecture – Mountain Home – National Preservation Month

In celebration of National Preservation Month

VA’s earliest hospitals were built as branches of the National Home for Disabled Volunteers Soldiers. In the aftermath of the American Civil War, Congress established the National Homes to provide medical care, rehabilitation, and a “real home” for thousands of Union veterans who survived the war, but whose disabilities or lack of family prevented them from finding suitable jobs and housing. The National Homes were purposely designed to be beautiful and welcoming and many notable architects were involved in creating that first generation of national veterans hospitals and homes. They were built in spacious, park-like settings which provided lots of opportunities for veterans to take relaxing strolls, get fresh air, and commune with nature. The National Home’s Mountain Branch, which opened in Johnson City, Tennessee, in 1903, was designed by renowned Beaux Arts architect, Joseph H. Freedlander, and is unique among VA’s early hospitals.
image001Joseph Henry Freedlander was born on August 18, 1870 in New York City to Jewish immigrants who migrated from Germany. His father was a hat wholesaler and his mother was a homemaker. He attended public schools and was later accepted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he graduated in 1891 with a degree in architecture at the age of 20. He then became one of the first Americans to attend the prestigious Écoles des Beaux Arts in Paris and graduated in 1895. Beaux Arts was a distinctive design style that embellished classical revival architecture with lavish and ornate details. The Écoles des Beaux Arts was regarded as one of the superior fine arts school in the world, at the time, and its artistic influences spanned from the early 19th century until the mid-1930s. Read the rest of this entry »


MILITARY FAMILY MEMORIAL TO BE UNVEILED IN SANTA FE ON MAY 13

April 24, 2017

 For immediate release

 For additional information: Dr. Circe Olson Woessner, (505) 504-6830

MILITARY FAMILY MEMORIAL TO BE UNVEILED IN SANTA FE ON MAY 13

Museum of the American Military Family Partners with the New Mexico National Guard

“Because our military families are so diverse, when we started to design our memorial, we decided to use a house because no matter which generation or which branch of service, we all keep the home fires burning – home is where our hearts are,” Museum of the Military Family (MAMF) Executive Director Dr. Circe Olson Woessner says. “We are proud to have created such a unique memorial to the mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, spouses, and others who have loved and supported a member of the U.S. Armed Forces.”

The Military Family Memorial is possible because of a grant from the Kerr Foundation and the generosity of companies like Lowe’s, RAKS, and of the National Guard, veterans’ organizations, and many individuals, especially “members of our all-volunteer board of directors, and extended Facebook family.”

The memorial is a small house, designed by Woessner and configured for a static display of family memorabilia by Museum special projects manager Paul Silva, a Sandia National Laboratories retiree. Through each of five windows, visitors can look upon displays depicting the life of a military member, of children, of spouses.

The Memorial is located on the grounds of the New Mexico National Guard Museum (formerly the Bataan Memorial Museum) in Santa Fe. It will be dedicated on May 13 at 1:00 p.m. during a weekend Guard commemoration of the end of World War II in Europe.

Army veteran and graphic designer Dominic Ruiz created the panels. He said the monument would teach people about military life and allow individuals familiar with it to reminisce. “For me, it brought back a lot of memories,” Ruiz says.

Woessner says, “I don’t know if there are any other memorials dedicated to the military family and I am grateful that the National Guard leadership recognizes the family as an essential component of military service and supports having our memorial right at the entrance to their own museum.”

For more information about the Museum of the American Military Family, visit www.militaryfamilymuseum.org or write to Museum of the American Military Family, P.O. Box 5085, Albuquerque, NM 87185. Tel: (505) 504-6830.

 

 


The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

America’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery was first authorized in 1921, three years after World War I ended, and joined U.S. allies in remembering the unknowns who fought in that war.  The first tombs dedicated to unknown soldiers took place in London and Paris in 1920: England established its Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey while France buried their honored unknowns underneath the famous Arc de’Triomphe de l’Etoile in Paris, marking the tomb with an eternal flame. The end of the first World War came on November 11, 1918, when the Armistice with Germany was signed. To this day, November 11th is an important day of commemoration not only in the U.S., but in England, France, Canada, Australia, and other countries, as well: in the U.S. it is Veterans Day while elsewhere is it known as Remembrance Day.

A joint resolution of Congress on March 4, 1921, authorized bringing home an unknown fallen American Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F.) soldier for burial in the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. In October 1921, General Pershing journeyed to France to select the unknown soldier from one of four American cemeteries in Europe. Read the rest of this entry »


Military families have front seats to history

Circe Olson Woessner

Recently on Facebook, a friend mentioned the difficulties of talking about her military childhood because people think she’s bragging when she speaks about having lived overseas. She admits, “I rarely bring it up any more.”

As the Director of the Museum of the American Military Family, I tell people that in order to understand history, one needs to see it from all perspectives. Military families have often been present during historic events, but much of the time, their experiences are not widely shared.

My husband was overseas conducting multinational exercises on September 11, 2001. I was driving to work listening to the radio when the news of the attacks came over the airways. I remember initially thinking it was a remake of that old radio show, “War of the Worlds.” As it sunk in that it was real, I realized I’d better pick up my kids from their off-base schools, as the base we lived on would go on lock-down. Our lives were about to change. Read the rest of this entry »


October 28, 1961 Benjamin Franklin Village Bulletin

village-bulletin-1 village-bulletin


VA History: 1923–National Homes Open For Women Veterans

Ninety-three years ago today, on September 14, 1923, the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (VHA’s origins) approved the first hospital spaces for women veterans.

1924_02_17_National Homes accepting disabled women veterans_NYT

Hospitalization and medical care for women who served as Army or Navy nurses during World War I were first authorized as part of Public Law 65-326 on March 3, 1919, just a few months after the Armistice. It was the third time in history that federal veterans benefits had been extended to women nurses who served with U.S. military forces as contractors or employees during wartime. The first federal benefit—pensions–was authorized in 1892 for women nurses who provided support to the U.S. military during the Civil War. In 1897 Congress approved the right to burial in national cemeteries for the same group. Although the 1919 law gave women nurses the right to medical care, no facilities were prepared to accept them.

The Women’s Overseas Service League, founded in 1921, took up the cause to force changes so that women veterans could use the benefits they were entitled to. Only after the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers approved dedicated space for women veterans did the War Department take further action.  The World War Veterans Act of 1924, as well as several smaller acts afterwards, ensured that accommodations were made to house and provide medical care to women veterans.

At the National Homes, a separate building at the Danville Branch (now VA Illiana HCS) in Danville, Illinois, was authorized for women veterans who required general medical treatment. A floor was reserved for them in the tuberculosis hospital at  the Northwestern Branch (now Clement J. Zablocki VAMC) in Milwaukee.  Catherine G. Witter, a 39 year old Army nurse who served at Camp Zachary Taylor during World War I, was one of the earliest women veterans admitted. She entered the Danville (IL) Branch on December 19, 1923 and died of stomach cancer on July 14, 1924. She is buried in the Home’s cemetery, now known as Danville National Cemetery.

By the time that the National Homes became part of the Veterans Administration in 1930, more hospitals had been constructed and opened, so women veterans weren’t limited to just one or two facilities.

Roughly 21,500 women served as nurses during World War I, with about 10,000 of them serving overseas.

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Photo: American nurse in Paris, France, during World War I, Library of Congress

Links to learn more:

http://www.redcross.org/about-us/history/red-cross-american-history/WWIhttp://www.redcross.org/about-us/history/red-cross-american-history/WWI

Women’s Overseas Service League: http://www.wosl.org/photo.htm

Story: VA Historian