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.
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 »
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.
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.
Photo: American nurse in Paris, France, during World War I, Library of Congress
Links to learn more:
Women’s Overseas Service League: http://www.wosl.org/photo.htm
Story: VA Historian
Joseph Page, who has authored several books about military installations, is looking for good-quality photos about Kirtland Air Force Base and, especially photos of its families. If you’d like to submit your photos to add to the book–due out in late 2017–please email Joseph at email@example.com
Twenty-six years ago, on August 15, 1990, Congress enacted Public Law 101-366 to name the Saginaw, Michigan, VA Medical Center after World War II flight nurse, 1st Lt. Aleda E. Lutz. Saginaw was the second VA facility to be named after a woman. There are currently two VA medical centers named for women.
Aleda Lutz was born in Freeland, Michigan on November 9, 1915 to German immigrants, Fred and Margaret Lutz. She graduated from Saginaw Arthur Hill High School in 1933 and shortly afterwards entered the Saginaw General Hospital School of Nursing. She graduated in 1937 and worked at the hospital as a registered nurse until February 10, 1942 when she enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps. She was initially assigned to Selfridge Air Field near Mt. Clemens, Michigan.
In December 1942 she was transferred to the 349th Air Evacuation Camp at Bowman Field near Louisville, Kentucky, where she was part of the first group of women to train as specialized flight nurses. The first class of Army flight nurses—then called “air evacuation unit nurses”–graduated on February 18, 1943. She was then assigned to the 802nd Medical Air Transport Squadron, the first of its kind activated in the Army Air Corps, and deployed to North Africa.
She served as a flight nurse through the Tunisian, Sicilian, and Italian campaigns and logged over 800 combat hours flown. She was killed while evacuating 15 wounded soldiers to Italy on November 1, 1944, eight days shy of her 29th birthday, when her transport plane crashed near Lyon in southern France. It was her 197th mission.
She was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, the Oak Leaf Cluster, Red Cross Medal, and Purple Heart, posthumously. In addition to the VA Medical Center name designation, a U.S. Army Hospital Ship and C-47 airplane have been named in her honor.
Aleda Lutz is buried in the Rhone American Cemetery in Draguignan, France, which is administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission.
Historian, Veterans Health Administration
Seventy-one years ago the world’s first atomic bombs used for military purposes were dropped by the U.S. on Japan to facilitate an end to World War II. The first bomb, nicknamed “Little Boy,” using the uraninum-235 isotope was dropped on August 6, 1945 on Hiroshima. Three days later, on August 9, 1945, a second bomb using plutonium and nicknamed “Fat Man” was dropped on Nagasaki. Both bombs had been built under the special “Manhattan Project” which officially began in 1942 under the U.S. Army. Six days later, on August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered. A formal signing of the surrender took place in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, aboard the U.S.S. Missouri. Each bomb leveled areas four miles wide, killed and injured tens of thousands of men, women, and children, and ushered in a new era of exciting scientific possibilities tempered by fear from the new reality that they could annihilate all of mankind.
After the war, atomic research flourished worldwide and followed two major paths: development for use in warfare and development for peaceful purposes. Barely one year after the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, the U.S. Congress enacted the Atomic Energy Act on August 1, 1946. The act established the Atomic Energy Commission, which became the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1974. An important component of the law authorized the use of atomic radioisotopes for biological and environmental research to benefit society. By the end of 1947, the Veterans Administration was among the first federal institutions to initiate an Atomic Medicine program. Read the rest of this entry »
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.