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VA Pensions Once Viewed as Government Handouts

The Department of Veterans Affairs provides health care, benefits, and burial services for nearly 10 million veterans each year.

Veterans, even disabled ones, were not always viewed as returning heroes, and the United States struggled with how to deal with soldiers’ needs after combat.  For example, the Continental Congress pledged money to anyone wounded in the Revolutionary War, but the government ran out of money. Tensions arose among veterans who were denied promised pensions and among civilians who believed that pensions were government giveaways.

Congress finally addressed the issue of how to care for American’s veterans with the War Pension Act of 1818.  At this point the public supported pensions for veterans in reduced circumstances. As soon as it passed, however, Congress was astonished by the number of claims: benefits were cut, and Congress began cracking down on fraudulent claims.

After the Civil War, soldiers returned with ongoing complications of wartime diseases and starvation, and many men who did survive lived with what would be diagnosed today as PTSD.  In 1865, Congress created the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers to provide for the men who had given their health in exchange for their service. It was not, however, until 1958 before former Confederate soldiers were considered war veterans in the United States.  This allowed spouses and children of all Civil War veterans to be eligible for federal pensions.

In 1930, Congress established the Veterans Administration, which subsequently became the Department of Veterans Affairs.