Vice President, Veterans Affairs Secretary Celebrate VA's 75th Anniversary
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 21, 2005 Vice President Richard B. Cheney joined Secretary of Veterans Affairs R. James Nicholson here today to kick off a yearlong celebration of the VA Department's 75th anniversary.
Cheney honored the veterans in the audience, from 103-year-old World War I veteran Lloyd Brown to veterans of combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq during a ceremony at Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall.
All, the vice president said, "have shaped the life of this nation for the better" through their service and sacrifice. In doing so, he said, they "have given every generation of Americans a lesson in the values of personal responsibility, morale strength and unselfish courage."
Every military veteran, whether drafted or enlisted, commissioned or not, and regardless of their service or whether they served in combat, shares common experiences and a common bond, Cheney said. "Each took an oath (and) lived by a code a stood ready to fight and to die for their country," he said.
They "have left a legacy like no other fighting force ever assembled," the vice president said, bringing "relief and deliverance" to those who have struggled and suffered and lived under oppression around the world.
Today, in the war on terror, Americans are once again "fighting...to defend ourselves against the most merciless enemies and to advance the cause of freedom and democracy," he said.
Nicholson, a Vietnam veteran himself, called America's veterans "liberty's champions and tyranny's worst nightmare" who he said "have brought honor to our country."
Those contributions have not been without cost, the secretary acknowledged, with some veterans giving their lives and others receiving "terrible injuries" serving their country.
And just as they stood up for their country, their country and the VA will continue to stand by them, Nicholson promised.
The secretary vowed that the VA, created 75 years ago today by President Herbert Hoover, will continue to live up to what Nicholson called its "noble mission: to honor our veterans' noble sacrifices and to dignify the cause they served by serving them."
For the past 75 years, the VA has provided health services and benefits to American veterans, living up to the promise made by President Abraham Lincoln during his second inaugural speech: "To care for him who has borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan."
On July 21, 1930, Hoover signed an order that consolidated various veterans programs into one organization to more effectively fulfill Lincoln's promise.
America's support for its veterans, however, actually dates back much earlier, Nicholson said today.
The Pilgrims passed a law stating that members of Plymouth Colony would provide support for soldiers disabled during the war with the Pequot Indians. The continental Congress of 1776 encouraged enlistments and tried to curtail desertions during the Revolutionary War by providing pensions to disabled soldiers. But the bill was left to the states, so only about 3,000 Revolutionary War veterans ever drew any pension. The first U.S. Congress assumed the burden of paying veterans benefits after ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1789.
Over its history, the United States has created the world's most comprehensive system of assistance for veterans-providing world-class health care, educational opportunities, persons and disability compensation, home loan guarantees, life insurance and more.
No other country in the world approaches the United States in supporting its military veterans, Nicholson told the audience today. "Not one."
Today, some 237,000 VA professionals provide health care to more than 5 million veterans through 157 hospitals and more than 850 community-based clinics. Fifty-five VA regional offices distribute pensions and disability compensation to more than 3.4 million veterans. In addition, 120 national cemeteries provide a dignified, permanent final resting place for those who wore the uniform of the U.S. armed services.
"Today, we celebrate 75 years of serving (American veterans) and reaffirm our commitment to them in the decades to come," Nicholson said.
The anniversary celebration will continue through the year with events throughout the country.