The Senior Veterans Handbook

Chris Hawkins Written by Chris Hawkins
SeniorLiving.Org Expert on Senior Care & Assisted Living

You’ve served your country and now it’s time for your country to serve you. Welcome to the SeniorLiving.org Veterans Handbook! Here you’ll find information on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the benefits they provide from Veterans nursing homes to assisted living assistance to survivors benefits.

The Senior Veterans Handbook

A Brief History of the VA

The concept of helping Veterans dates back to 1636 and Plymouth Rock. The Pilgrims passed a law that “disabled soldiers would be supported by the colony.” As the collection of colonies raced towards independence, the 1776 Continental Congress created the future nation’s first pension law. This law granted half pay for life “in cases of loss of limb or other serious disability.”

The 1818 Service Pension Law gave Revolutionary War Veterans a fixed pension for life regardless of whether they were disabled or not. Officers received $20 monthly while enlisted men received $8.

The country continued to evolve for its Veterans when Congress created the General Pension Act of 1862. This provided not only disability payments but also benefits for widows, children and dependent relatives. It also covered military service in time of peace. The National Cemetery System was also established in 1862.

In his second inaugural address in the waning days of the Civil War, President Lincoln urged Congress “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.” This later became the VA’s motto.

Throughout the next 70 or so years, various government agencies were created to assist Veterans, particularly in vocational training and rehabilitation for those back from the trenches of WWI. In 1930, the Congress under President Hoover created the Veteran’s Administration, consolidating the “previously independent Veterans’ Bureau, the Bureau of Pensions and the National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers."

The Veteran’s Administration was responsible for war veterans’ medical services; disability compensation; life insurance; bonus certificates; Army and Navy pensions; and civilian employees retirement payments.

Congress created the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act aka The GI Bill, in 1944. This bill greatly expanded Veterans benefits providing four years of education or training; guaranteed home, farm and business loans with no down payment; and unemployment compensation.

In 1989, President Reagan signed legislation to elevate the VA to Cabinet status, thus changing the agency from the Veterans Administration to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Veterans Facts

As of 2012, there were some 22 million U.S. Veterans:

Army 9.4 million

Navy 4.8 million

Air Force 3.9 million

Marines 2.3 million

Non-Defense 211,000

Reserves 933,000

Future Veterans

These are the projected totals for U.S. Veterans by 2035 as computed by Veterans Affairs.

Army 5.5 million

Navy 3.2 million

Air Force 2.5 million

Marines 1.8 million

Non-Defense 233,000

Reserves 915,000

Surprisingly, only about 8 million Veterans use the services of the VA such as healthcare.

VA Facilities Across the U.S.

807 VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinics

288 VA Vet Centers

152 VA Hospitals

131 VA National Cemeteries

56 Veterans Benefits Administration Regional Offices

VA Benefits and Health Care Use

One of the more surprising aspects of those who served is how few use the benefits they are entitled to. Only 8.3 million of the more than 22 million are enrolled in the VA Health Care System. Here is how the other services are used:

Life Insurance Policies 7.1 million

VA Disability 3.3 million

VA Home Loans 1.5 million

VA Education 900,000

VA Pension 300,000

Vocational Rehab 60,000

The VA’s 21st Century Makeover

Today’s VA has come kicking and screaming into the 21st century. They’ve had to. The VA was in need of a major makeover, especially with the number of Veterans returning from the Middle East. The following are the VA’s 16 initiatives:

  • Eliminating Veteran homelessness
  • Enabling 21st century benefits delivery and services
  • Automating GI Bill benefits
  • Creating Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record
  • Improving Veterans’ mental health
  • Building Veterans relationship management capability to enable convenient, seamless interactions
  • Designing a Veteran-centric health care model to help Veterans navigate the health care delivery system and receive coordinated care
  • Enhancing the Veteran experience and access to health care
  • Ensuring preparedness to meet emergent national needs
  • Developing capabilities and enabling systems to drive performance and outcomes
  • Establishing strong VA management infrastructure and integrated operating model
  • Transforming human capital management
  • Performing research and development to enhance the long-term health and well-being of Veterans
  • Optimizing the utilization of VA's Capital portfolio by implementing and executing the Strategic Capital Investment Planning (SCIP) process
  • Improving the quality of health care while reducing cost
  • Transforming health care delivery through health informatics

SeniorLiving.org will explore some of these initiatives in future articles as they relate to senior Veterans. You can learn more about the VA, Veterans and senior living in the following articles:

Updated: May 29, 2012

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